September 28, 2005

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding this variance application.  The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is the largest membership organization in Greenwich Village, and we work to preserve the neighborhood’s historic character.  We have been extremely concerned about Related Companies’ proposed development of this site and the impact it would have upon the character of its surroundings.  As is no secret, we would like not to see any large-scale development on this site, and have pushed for the existing historic building to be included in a historic district designation.  I believe it would be fair to say that an overwhelming majority of the residents and neighbors who have weighed in on this issue feel similarly.  However, we recognize the limited scope of your authority in regard to the application before you today, and are directing our comments solely toward the variance and its relationship to the presumed new zoning for the site recently passed by the City Planning Commission.  However, should this rezoning change, we urge you to hold the hearing open, so that we and others may provide new or additional testimony in response.

In short, we feel strongly that Related’s proposed tower is simply too big and too tall for the area, and must be reduced.  However, we also feel very strongly that the reduction should NOT come from simply shifting the mass to the lower portions of the building, where it would take light and air away from direct neighbors of the site, but instead should be eliminated completely. 

First of all, Related’s request for additional residential and commercial bulk to fill the 5.24 FAR the rezoning would allow for community facilities is ludicrous and should be rejected out of hand.  Though Related has threatened that if they are not given this bulk they will simply use the community facility bulk allowance to reach this greater FAR, we strongly urge the Board not to allow them to do this. 

While we do not object to Related being allowed to vary from the height and massing requirements of the new zoning in order to provide more light and air for neighbors of this unique site, we also recognize that the greater height also gives Related greater profitability from higher floors and more unimpeded views.  In return for this benefit to the developer, we feel that it is only fair that the surrounding community, which will be highly impacted by the proposed building, get the benefit in return of a smaller, shorter tower, which will both block less light and air and figure less prominently in the surrounding streetscape and skyline.  We urge this be accomplished two ways:

  1. By reducing the very high floor-to-ceiling heights of the project and thereby reducing the height not only of the tower, but of the townhouses and lower building as well, and
  2. By further reducing the allowable bulk of the building from the 5.02 FAR they are allowed by the rezoning, and by eliminating this bulk from the tower they are seeking a variance to build.

We also question the “minimum variance” and hardship findings of the applicant.  Aside from the obvious fact that the application has changed to fit the shifting political realities of the proposed rezoning for the area, we question the particular bases for the applicants claim of “hardship” and proposed minimum variance to redress this hardship.  Buildings such as 495 West and 118 Horatio, just a half a block and a block and a half to the north of this site along West Street respectively, were both built without hardship claims in spite of very similar subsurface conditions and location within the “100 year flood plain.”  Additionally, the projected selling prices for the building do not reflect the realities of the selling prices of comparable buildings in the area, which more commonly approach or exceed $2,000 per sq. ft., rather than the $1,000 or so per sq. ft. average Related cites.  Additionally, other developers and builders have told us that the projected building costs in this application seem quite exaggerated.  We urge the Board to examine these projections closely, as well as to look at prior projections submitted by this applicant and their representatives in other variance applications, such as for the recently completed Astor Place tower, as we believe that closer scrutiny will show the schewing in their favor of the projections they have provided.

Regardless, we do not object to Related being allowed to shift the mass of their building to accommodate the concerns of neighbors, though we question whether there is in fact any ‘hardship’ justification for it.  Far from having a hardship, we believe that Related will be making a killing here, as they have with so many other developments, resulting from variances and not.  In return for Related’s request for the ability to concentrate more of their bulk in a more profitable tower, we urge that they be required to reduce the size and height of the project to minimize the impact upon the surrounding neighborhood.  Given the very sensitive surroundings of the site, it seems quite clear that any arrangement of this much bulk will have a heavy impact upon surrounding neighbors, and those neighbors will no doubt tell you today what they believe those impacts will be.  A reduction in the overall bulk would be the one way to minimize the impact of the development upon all parties – immediate neighbors and the community as a whole – and that is what we urge the Board to require.

Thank you.