We’re Thankful for the Building That Wasn’t

 

Third Ave bldg

Designed by architect Karl Fischer, this nine-story building under construction on the corner of 12th Street and Third Avenue is dwarfed by NYU’s blond-brick Founders Hall at right.

There’s a residential building under construction on Third Avenue in the East Village that doesn’t get much love in the blogosphere. It’s just another luxury residence replacing older buildings with character (plus a parking lot), the naysayers say (though 20% of the units will be reserved for low-income tenants). And they have a point. But here at GVSHP we have a soft spot for 74-84 Third Avenue — not so much for what it is, but what it isn’t.

Thanks to the Third and Fourth Avenue Corridor Rezoning approved in October 2010, 74-84 Third Avenue is not 15 stories tall, or 20 stories, or 26 stories, like its towering neighbor on 12th Street, the Founders Hall dorm of NYU.

Founders Hall

NYU’s 26-story Founders Hall dorm is an example of what might have been, without the Third Avenue rezoning.

No, this building — to contain rental apartments, one-fifth of which will be affordable, as well as a Westway market on the ground floor — is just nine stories tall. Before the rezoning, there was no height restriction, and the building could have easily matched the 26-story height of its NYU neighbor.  But under the new C6-2A zoning, the height limit for new construction is considerably less than half that. GVSHP proposed and — along with other advocates, residents, the Community Board, and elected officials — fought for the rezoning so that new development would take place in context with the generally low-rise East Village. The new measures, like the broader 2008 East Village downzoning, which GVSHP also fought for, also rescinded incentives for building hotels or dorms, which haven’t always proved the most popular uses in the neighborhood, while adding incentives for producing or maintaining affordable housing.

As our “Keeping in Character” report explains, the two rezonings “for the first time established height limits, reduced the allowable bulk of buildings on many sites, capped air rights transfers, and eliminated the zoning bonus for dormitories and hotels, as well as created incentives for the development and retention of affordable housing. Unlike the previous zoning which virtually ignored the existing built fabric, the new zoning districts were based on the context of the existing built environment and what would be most compatible with that fabric.

“While neither rezoning contained all of the provisions or restrictions that GVSHP or our fellow community groups, the Community Board, or supportive elected officials pushed for, the changes did make a substantive difference in the size, scale, and type of new development allowed and encouraged under the new zoning.

“Under the new zoning, development tends to be shorter and much more similar in height to surrounding buildings, must maintain the all-important street wall, is usually less bulky than could have been built under the old zoning, and is more likely to be for residential use than a hotel or dormitory.”

Sometimes less bad is very good indeed.

Third Ave parking lot

Before construction began, the site contained a parking lot and rowhouses — one was home to Nevada Smith’s bar, which has moved a block north on Third.

You can find out more about this and other contextual rezonings GVSHP helped win here.

 

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Karen Loew

Karen Loew is the Director of East Village and Special Projects at GVSHP.

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