City Council Approved Tech Hub Without the Neighborhood Protections Councilmember Carlina Rivera Promised As a Condition for Her Support Upzoning for Project Will Greatly Increase Pressure for Oversized and Out-of-Character Commercial Development in Neighboring Greenwich Village and East Village; Rivera Pledged During Campaign and While In Office Not To Approve Without Full Neighborhood Protections

Today the City Council, led by Councilmember Carlina Rivera, voted to approve the Mayor’s proposed upzoning of a site at 120 East 14th Street (4th Avenue) to accommodate a planned 21-story “Tech Hub,” without the neighborhood protections the community had fought for, and which Councilmember Rivera pledged when she ran for City Council last year that she would condition her vote upon (candidate Carlina Rivera, when running for office in 2017, said: “without the needed zoning protections for the neighborhood, [the Tech Hub] would lead to acceleration in out of scale development for the surrounding residential neighborhood.”)

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and multiple affordable housing, small business, and local community groups called for the protections for the surrounding neighborhoods as a component of the plan. Such zoning or landmark protections are necessary to ensure that out-of-character and out-of-scale commercial development are not further catalyzed in the surrounding communities, as has already been occurring since the announcement of the proposal, including several 300 ft. tall office and condo developments, and 300 room hotels.

Developments Planned or Underway in the Area: (top, l. to r.) 285 ft. tall tower at 110 University Pl. (former Bowlmor site); one iteration of possible commercial office building at 799 B’way (St. Denis) – could be 300+ ft. tall; (bottom, l. to r.) 232 ft. tall office/residential tower at 809 B’way (11th/12th); 313 rm. Moxy Hotel, 112 E. 11th St. (3rd/4th Ave. – under construction); 300 ft. tall office tower at 827-831 B’way (now blocked due to landmarking).

The deal approved by the City Council includes the following very modest “neighborhood protections,” which are significantly less than what we had called for:* A requirement of a “special permit” for new hotels in the area, which does not mean new hotels can’t be built, but that they require additional approvals (this only applies to about half of the affected area; in the other half, existing zoning doesn’t allow hotels of already makes their construction very unlikely).

  • A commitment to consider a small number of sites for landmarking, few if any of which are active development sites or likely to ever be. The commitment to consider does not mean that any will actually be designated.
  • An HPD tenant “anti-harassment” program, which has no effect on new development and is generally viewed skeptically by tenant advocates as having any impact

By contrast, Village Preservation and other community groups had called for zoning protections for the area which would have reinforced the neighborhood’s predominantly residential and low-to-mid-rise character, while adding or strengthening affordable housing incentives or making them requirements. Councilmember Rivera pledged to make her support for the Tech Hub contingent upon these measures. This would have placed appropriate height limits for new developments in the areas where none exist and prevented large hotels and office buildings from being built in areas like the 3rd and 4th Avenue corridors, where the zoning now encourages them. It would have also provided incentives for including or preserving affordable housing in new developments, and removed existing loopholes through which developers get around current affordable housing incentives. As an alternative, Village Preservation proposed extensive landmarking protections for the area’s historic buildings.

The administration refused to consider any of these, and Councilmember Rivera, who had pledged not to vote for the Tech Hub without them, in the end did exactly that, and urged her colleagues on the Council to do the same. 

The deal approved today:* Has virtually no effect upon development in the University Place and Broadway corridors, where 300 ft. tall condo and office towers are currently underway, being built, or planned

  • Will not affect out-of-character office building development in the 3rd and 4th Avenue corridors
  • Will not necessarily prevent hotel development in the 3rd and 4th Avenue corridors, only subject it to an additional level of review and approval

GVSHP described the deal approved today as “a fraction of a fraction of the neighborhood protections we fought for and need, and which Councilmember Rivera promised to condition her support for the Tech Hub upon.”

While the protections being offered are better than nothing, they will not be sufficient to protect the neighborhood from the rising wave of out-of-character development, which will be exacerbated by the approval of the commercial upzoning of the 14th Street site for the Tech Hub. This approval sends a signal to developers that this part of town, from Union Square to Astor Place, is in fact an extension of Silicon Alley, and now part of ‘Midtown South.’   

While we should all be deeply disappointed by this outcome, we should also take heart.  The very modest protections being offered would never have come about were it not for our activism and pressure.  And while they will not be nearly sufficient to protect the character of these neighborhoods, they will protect a few buildings and possibly prevent a few bad developments.  But we must and will fight for more! 

August 8, 2018