City Planning Hears Permit Request for Redesigned Ladies’ Mile Residential Tower

Rendering of proposed building for 39-41 West 23rd Street. Image credit: COOKFOX Architects

Rendering of proposed building for 39-41 West 23rd Street. Image credit: COOKFOX Architects

Through-lot building is opposed by Manhattan Borough President and Community Board 5. On February 4, 2015 the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on a proposed residential tower at 39-41 West 23rd Street in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. The site is zoned M1-6 and is surrounded by commercial use buildings, but has been the subject of residential development attempts since 2006. (See previous CityLand coverage here and here.)

Project counsel Michael Sillerman of Kramer Levin testified first, giving an overview of the development’s history. The current design received approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in October 2013, and Mr. Sillerman testified that the site is presently used as a parking lot which would be improved by the proposed building. Richard Cook of COOKFOX Architects testified on the building’s design, and emphasized the confined nature of the subject lot in explaining that without the permit to build as intended, the only plausible development would be a narrow hotel. Commissioner Anna Levin pointed out that the real estate market has changed significantly since the request was first brought in 2006 as luxury residential units are more prevalent now, and asked whether allowing residential construction would put adverse pressure on similar neighboring buildings to also convert to residential use. Mr. Sillerman testified that the site was both empty and constrained, and that the neighborhood was not losing a robust commercial building by this project. He further opposed the idea of conversion pressure on neighboring buildings, arguing commercial buildings in the area were built prior to the 1916 zoning changes, and do not have the floor plates to easily convert to residential use. Chairman Carl Weisbrod continued questioning the proposal in light of new market realities, and asked whether there were any affordable housing provisions with the project. Mr. Sillerman testified there were ongoing discussions with the Department of City Planning and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development on how best to accomplish affordable housing.

James Caras, land use director for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, read the Borough President’s statement in opposition into the record. The Borough President stated that while she had no objection to the design of the building, Ladies’ Mile was a commercial district and expressed concern that the special permit was being used as spot-zoning to allow the residential tower. If the area was to be rezoned, the Borough President stated, then a formal application should be made allowing for community input into the process. Layla Law-Gisiko from Manhattan Community Board 5’s Land Use committee testified in opposition to the project. Ms. Law-Gisiko stated the Board objected to the loss of commercial space and echoed the Borough President’s concerns about spot-zoning. Ms. Law-Gisiko argued the market for commercial development was “piping hot” given the rise of New York’s tech industry and called for a commercial building on the site, which would yield higher tax revenue than residential construction. On questions from Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, Ms. Law-Gisiko stated the Board has not received a presentation the developers’ affordable housing ideas, but heard offsite construction was a component, which they were less favorable of than onsite affordability.

CPC:  39-41 West 23rd Street (140404-ZSM, 140405-ZSM) (Feb. 4, 2015).

By:  Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2014).

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