Retailers and community board clash over downtown zoning
By Sophia Rosenbaum
Chocolatier Jacques Torres’ business is booming at his Brooklyn shop—but melting on Hudson Street.
Torres attributes the success of his Dumbo outlet to the area’s rezoning, which sparked a residential boom. He’s hoping the same will happen in Hudson Square, an area in west Soho, where a rezoning plan that would change the area from largely a manufacturing district to a mixed-use district is the subject of dispute.
“If you want a neighborhood, you have to bring character to the neighborhood,” Torres said. “A small bar. Someone who can make bread. People selling books, a small grocery store. All of those things make a neighborhood.”
Torres and other Hudson Square business owners got a glimmer of hope for their rezoning plea Oct. 18, when Community Board 2 nixed the proposal but set the stage for a compromise. The board wants building heights set out in the zoning plan lowered, more open space put aside and part of the adjacent South Village to be landmarked.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” board chair David Gruber said about the preservation of the South Village. “We have to save it from getting knocked down, because if it lags too much behind, we’ll lose a lot of buildings.”
Trinity Real Estate, which owns 40 percent of the property in Hudson Square, has been working for a decade on promoting the rezoning project, which would affect a 34-block swath bounded by the West Side Highway, Morton and Barrow streets, Sixth Avenue and Hudson Street, and Canal Street.
About 4 percent of the area is currently designated as residential, which translates to a few hundred people, according to Lloyd Kaplan, whose law firm represents Trinity. Kaplan said the proposed rezoning could bring 6,000 new residents.
“It’s a significant gain, but hardly an overwhelming one,” Kaplan said. “It seems like the right kind of balance that would produce around-the-clock 24/7 activity that supports retail developments that are so important to the future of any area.”
Andrew Berman, the executive director for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said he was “pleased with the language” in the board’s recommendation.
“It seems as though the community board recognizes that this is absolutely essential,” Berman said. “Rezoning will only accelerate the destruction of the South Village.”
The zoning proposal calls for building-height limits of 320 feet on avenues and 185 feet on narrower side streets. The board wants to limit building height on avenues to 250 feet for buildings with affordable housing and 210 feet for those without. On side streets, the board wants a maximum of 185 feet with affordable housing and 165 feet without.
Berman believes the board’s height limits are still too high, saying the numbers encourage out of character high-rise buildings.
“Hudson Square is more densely built up than Soho and the Village, but it’s not Midtown,” Berman said. “They come too close to allowing the mistakes that have already happened, like the Trump Soho building.”
But local merchants see rezoning as much-needed progress.
“It’s just the evolution of the city, and it happens all the time,” said Peter Howlett, director of design at the upscale furniture showroom George Smith, which has a branch on Hudson Street.
Nicholas Balint, manager of the Hudson Square Pharmacy, believes it’s inevitable that bigger chain stores will inhabit the area without zoning changes.
“You’re going to get a Jamba Juice and a J. Crew next to 200-year-old buildings,” Balint said.
Balint and Torres, who both referred to Hudson Square as a “ghost town” at nights and on weekends, are hopeful the rezoning will bring new life to their businesses.
“How can this neighborhood live like this?” Torres asked. “We need people to come to this neighborhood to make it alive.”
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