On Wednesday the City Planning Commission voted to approve the proposed Hudson Square Rezoning with some minor modifications, sending it to the City Council. The Council now has fifty days to hold a public hearing and make a final decision as to whether or not the rezoning will be approved, denied, or modified.
While GVSHP has not been shy about noting our deep concerns about the proposed rezoning’s impact upon the adjacent proposed South Village Historic District and the need to ensure that the South Village is landmarked if the rezoning is approved (or to simply not approve the rezoning), there are certainly other aspects of the rezoning proposal City Planning approved which deserve examination as well.
The City Planning Commission (CPC) reduced slightly the maximum allowable height for new buildings on avenues from the 320 feet originally proposed to 290 feet, the same height Borough President Stringer recommended. GVSHP has called for 210 foot height limits on major avenues. Why 210 feet? Because by far the majority of the early 20th century loft buildings which characterize much of Hudson Square are no more than 200 feet tall, and because other zoning districts in the city which allow buildings of a similar density to those proposed here have successfully used a 210 foot height limit. Why a 290 foot height limit is needed here is a mystery, except to possibly allow developers to accumulate air rights and build higher and larger than normally allowed.
The CPC made another change to the rezoning supported by both Borough President Stringer and Community Board #2 — they eliminated “Subdistrict B” from the rezoning proposal, a four block area around Watts and Dominick Streets that had originally called for 125 foot height limits and bulk limits just over half of what is being proposed for the rest of the rezoning area. By eliminating the subdistrict, City Planning brought the height limits for these blocks up to the same proposed for the rest of the district (290 on wide streets, 185 feet on side streets), and the bulk limits were equalized as well. While GVSHP is generally supportive of lower height and bulk limits, part of the argument against this subdistrict was that it was almost entirely occupied by small property owners who would have much greater restrictions on their properties than Trinity Realty, who was proposing the rezoning, and who owned little or no property within Subdistrict B (they own close to 50% of the property in the remainder of the proposed district). GVSHP proposed instead that height and bulk limits should be brought down somewhat for EVERYONE, rather than just small property owners.
Speaking of making it easier for larger development to take place in Hudson Square, City Planning also added a mechanism to the rezoning proposal to allow developments on side streets, where the current height limits are 185 feet, to go even higher. GVSHP opposed this mechanism.
Where City Planning did not change the proposed rezoning is in its proposed bulk limits — meaning the actual number of square feet once can develop on any site. This bears some relation to the height limits, but they are not identical — you can have a very massive building with many square feet of space which is large and squat but not very tall, and you can have a very tall structure which is very skinny and therefore has many fewer square feet.
The rezoning plan currently grants developers 12 times as many square feet to develop as the square footage of the site they build upon (this is known as floor area ratio, or FAR). If you acquire air rights, the development can be even larger.
12 FAR means that if you build on 100% of your property straight up without setbacks and with no space within the building which does not count towards floor area (such as various kinds of mechanical spaces or parking spaces), you would get a 12 story building. But this virtually never happens (in most cases, including the proposed rezoning, you are forbidden from building upon 100% of your property straight up), and thus a 12 FAR building is more likely at least 18 stories and can easily be (depending upon the massing of the building, and if air rights are acquired) 25 stories or much, much more. 12 FAR is the density allowed for new development in many parts of Midtown Manhattan and, GVSHP feels, too great for Hudson Square.
GVSHP has instead called for a maximum FAR of 9, or 25% less than what is currently proposed. This, along with the reduction in the height limits we have recommended, would not only help keep new development more harmonious and in keeping with the existing built fabric of the Hudson Square neighborhood, but help reduce the strain and negative impact new development would have upon resources and infrastructure in the area, and contribute less to the already overwhelming traffic problems in the area.
In spite of their namesake mandate, City Planning was not moved by this argument. Borough President and the Community Board also did not include such a change in their recommendations.
The final decision on all of these matters will be made by the City Council, most especially by City Council Speaker Quinn, who represents the area in question (the Council almost always defers to the local Councilmember on land use issues such as these — especially when the local member also happens to be the Speaker).
The City Council’s one public hearing on the matter before they vote is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, February 12 in the 16th floor hearing room at 250 Broadway. This is subject to change and the time has not yet been announced; check www.gvshp.org for updates or sign up for our e-mail list to receive an alert as to when the hearing has been set. You can also write Speaker Quinn about this or call her office at 212-564-7757.