City Council Subcommittee Hears Testimony on East Houston Street Rezoning

City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises hearing testimony at the August 9th hearing. Image credit: CityLand

City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises hearing testimony at the August 9th hearing. Image credit: CityLand

The proposal seeks to re-zone two and a half residential blocks from solely residential to mixed-use with ground floor commercial space. On August 9, 2016, the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises heard testimony on an application to re-zone residential space to provide for mixed residential and commercial space for two-and-a-half blocks on the south side of Houston Street, spanning from Norfolk Street to halfway between Clinton Street and Attorney Street, located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The City Planning Commission approved the application after holding a hearing on June 8, 2016. For CityLand’s previous coverage on the East Houston Street Rezoning, click here.

The property proposed to be rezoned is currently occupied by a four-story building, which was previously used by Action for Progress as a day care center. It has been unoccupied since 2010, when the building became unstable due to construction work being done on a neighboring building, located at 265 Houston Street.

The proposed rezoning would facilitate the construction of a new 70,000 square foot mixed-use building with 5,000 square feet of ground floor retail space below 88 residential units. Twenty percent of the residential units, or 18 units, would be made affordable at 60 percent of the area median income, or AMI. Further, the property will benefit from 421-a tax benefits, though it will not receive any kind of subsidy from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

At the August 9th hearing, Council Member Rosie Mendez, the representative for Manhattan’s Lower East Side, spoke against the proposal. According to Council Member Mendez, when the Lower East Side/East Village was rezoned in 2008, several blocks surrounding 255 Houston Street had been rezoned to offer commercial space in addition to the residential units. However, the specific spot proposed to be rezoned had been purposefully kept residential, which is in line with the interests of Manhattan Community Board 3 and the neighborhood at large.

Greenberg Traurig’s Nick Hockens testified on behalf of the applicant. According to Hockens, the owner of the property at issue has been trying to fill the space since 2010, but has not been able to due to a lack of demand on East Houston Street. Hockens testified that the applicant met with Manhattan Community Board 3 in 2011 to discuss the possible uses of the property, though the applicant and Community Board 3 have not had continued discussions since then. Further, Hockens testified that the applicant has been in discussions with Sherman Williams about the possibility of using the space as a paint store, and previously had fully negotiated a lease-term with the Blue Man Group, which ultimately fell through.

Manhattan Community Board 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer testified in opposition to the proposal. According to Stetzer, Community Board 3 was never informed of the applicant’s difficulties in filling the space, nor was Community Board 3’s assistance ever sought. After learning about the difficulty faced by the applicant in filling the space, in less than a week, Community Board 3 reached out to three of its settlement houses—Henry Street Settlement, University Settlement, and Educational Alliance—all of which expressed interest in expanding their premises, but stated that they had not been contacted about the opportunity. “The applicant cannot claim best faith efforts to secure a community facility without contacting any of the settlement houses that have served our community for over 100 years nor contacting the Community Board for referrals,” said Stetzer. Manhattan Community Board 3 has seen its district fill up with nightlife destinations below residential units, most of which do not open before 5pm, leaving the streets bare during waking hours and alive at night.

Paul Young, a resident of 253 East Houston Street, testified in opposition to the proposal. Young testified that the developer made no effort to reach out to the neighborhood in pursuit of the project. Further, Young testified that the two blocks proposed to be rezoned are still largely residential, and that there is “absolutely no community interest” in filling the proposed area with another restaurant or bar.

City Council: East Houston Street Rezoning (T2016-4777) (Aug. 9, 2016).

By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

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