40-56 10th Avenue Glass Tower Variance Application
A developer is seeking a zoning variance to allow the construction of a building 34% larger than zoning allows on a site on the east side of 10th Avenue between 13th and 14th Street, known as 40-56 Tenth Avenue.
Owned for many years by the Gottlieb Estate, the site had previously contained several low-rise meatpacking buildings. In the late 1990’s, several of the buildings on the northern half of the site burned down; those on the southern half have been empty and in disrepair for many years.
The plan is to construct an unusually shaped glass office building rising
199 feet, with retail and/or a restaurant on the first and second floors, designed by noted young Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang. In addition to variances to increase the size of the allowable building, the developer is seeking variances to allow the building to set back from the High Line, so more light and air reaches the elevated park.
To get such a variance from the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals, the developer must prove that there is an economic hardship, i.e. that they cannot make a reasonable return (defined by New York case law as 6%) developing the property under the zoning regulations. They must show that the hardship is also unique and not self-imposed, and that the variance they are asking for is the “minimum necessary” to address the hardship.
The developer claims the hardship comes from the location of the High Line on a portion of the property (10% of the lot is covered by the High Line, and therefore they cannot build on that portion) and that the landfill under the site makes construction particularly difficult and expensive.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation disagrees with these claims. While we have no objection to the development setting back farther from the High Line than the existing zoning would allow in order to increase light and air to the elevated park, we do believe that increasing the allowable size of the office building development would have a negative impact upon the neighborhood.
This area is overdeveloped as it is, and what can be built on this site under the existing zoning is more than generous enough. In fact, within feet of the site in question, the Standard Hotel was built utilizing the same zoning rules and restrictions, as was the office building known as “The High Line” atop the old art deco meatpacking plant which surrounds the High Line on the south side of 14th Street, directly east of this site. Neither seem to be suffering from an economic hardship.
The subsurface conditions the developer claims creates a unique hardship for this site are actually found under lots up and down the west side waterfront. Many of those have been developed under these same zoning rules, without hardship variances.
Additionally, far from creating a hardship, the location of the High Line in such close proximity to the development, as well as the Hudson River Park, will only increase the desirability, and therefore the profitability of the development, not decrease it.
Community Board #2’s Land Use Committee has agreed with this contention and opposes the bulk variance, as do other local groups like the Greenwich Village Community Task Force and several local residents who spoke at the Community Board hearing. The variance application should be heard before the Board of Standards and Appeals sometime in the new year, but no date has yet been set. We hope that local elected officials such as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will oppose the variance, and that the Board will ultimately reject it as well.