Proposed renovation would restore two floors lost to fire and open loft building to non-artist tenants. On December 3, 2014 the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on an application for a special permit for 102 Greene Street in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District, Manhattan. The building is three stories, with the Galeria Melissa gallery on the ground floor and two apartments above. The apartments are designated as Joint Live-Work Quarters for Artists (JLWQA), though neither of the current tenants are artists.
Caroline Harris of Goldman Harris, testified on behalf of the applicant, 102 Greene Owner LLC. Ms. Harris stated the applicant proposes to restore the building to its original 1880 condition, replacing a fourth and fifth floor lost after a fire in 1941 and replacing the building’s cast-iron façade with authentic cast-iron. The applicant also wishes to add a penthouse duplex atop the rebuilt fifth floor, set back from the façade. In 2007, the applicant received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Landmarks Preservation Commission permitting the restoration. At the hearing, Ms. Harris testified the applicant needs to convert the building to Use Group 2 and put the apartments on the open market in order to recoup the high cost of such an extensive renovation.
On October 23, 2014 Manhattan Community Board 2 voted 46-0 to recommend conditional disapproval of the application unless plans were modified to include one floor consisting of one or two affordable units determined by local Area Median Income. In its statement, the Board wrote the proposal as designed “will cause the loss of two conforming JLWQA units in the building and will promote and encourage continuation of the harmful trend that reduces the affordability of artists’ housing in the neighborhood and thereby harms the successful character of SoHo.” On November 24, 2014 Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer issued a recommendation for conditional disapproval of the application on the same conditions as CB 2. Borough President Brewer rejected the applicant’s argument that converting the building to Use Group 2 was consistent with the transition of SoHo to a district of mixed-use historic structures, stating “[The applicant’s] description of the neighborhood context is wholly nonconforming with the SoHo zoning. The aggregate nonconformity of a neighborhood should not justify additional waivers.”
The Commission contested the applicant’s reasoning that the permit should be granted because many other JLWQA buildings in the community are currently renting to non-artists, eroding the zoning protection. Chairman Carl Weisbrod expressed concern that granting this application would provide a blueprint for future developers to take protected artists’ housing onto the open market under the pretense of historic renovation, and asked, “If we granted this application, under what set of circumstances wouldn’t we grant virtually any application that came to us claiming ‘In this district, because it’s landmark restoration, that trumps not having JLWQA’?” Ms. Harris suggested Landmarks should coordinate more during the application process to determine whether the proposed amount of renovation is substantial enough to merit removing JLWQA protection, and later asserted this application does not set a precedent. Commissioner Irwin Cantor pushed back, claiming inconsistency between saying this application does not set a precedent when other noncompliant buildings are cited in the application as precedent. Ms. Harris responded “I can’t account for Buildings not enforcing JLWQA laws, but it shouldn’t be used to penalize an honest applicant saying ‘We don’t want to continue the ruse.’ …If the [de Blasio] Administration wishes to evaluate how best to support artists, have the conversation, but don’t hold up this one application for two units as ‘No More’.”
The hearing was closed and on December 15, 2015 the Commission scheduled further consideration on 102 Greene Street for the public hearing on January 7, 2015.
CPC: 102 Greene Street (140353-ZSM) (Dec. 3, 2014).
By: Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2014).