Durst Development at West 57th Street Gets One Step Closer to Full Approval

Rendering of proposed mixed-use building at 625 West 57th Street. Image Courtesy: Durst Development LLC.

Rendering of proposed mixed-use building at 625 West 57th Street. Image Courtesy: Durst Development LLC.

New development plan promises period of residential affordability, lively streetscape, and small public space in Manhattan. On December 19, 2012, the City Planning Commission approved Durst Development LLC’s mixed-use development project at 625 West 57th Street. A unique, pyramid-shaped, 35-story building between West 57th and 58th Streets will be the centerpiece of the project. The building will contain 753 rental units including 151 affordable units, ground floor retail space, and a 285-space accessory parking garage. The development project will also include a conversion of a Manhattan Mini Storage building at 600 West 58th Street to community facility, residential, or retail uses. Finally, an access drive will be built connecting West 57th and West 58th Streets to provide access to the new building’s parking garage and lobby. (See CityLand’s past coverage here).

Manhattan Community Board 4 disapproved of the development, citing concerns over the project’s lack of permanent affordability. As proposed, the project’s units will be affordable for 30 to 35 years. Durst Development is not requesting participation in the City’s Inclusionary Housing Program, which requires permanent affordability in exchange for bonus floor area. The Community Board was also concerned about the project’s lack of public open space and the improvement of streetscape activity on West 58th Street, where the development’s mechanical area is planned. Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer approved of the project and requested that 20 percent of the units be affordable at the 600 West 58th Street building if the building is converted to residential use.

At City Planning’s hearing on November 14, 2012, the issue of affordable housing was brought to the forefront of the discussion. The Community Board, West Side Neighborhood Alliance, and State Senator Tom Duane’s representative spoke in opposition to the project based on the lack of permanent affordability. Douglas Durst, Chairman of the Durst Organization, testified that the company promises to participate in the 80/20 Housing Program, which provides tax incentives for developers who rent 20 percent of their total units as affordable for a period of 30 to 35 years. Durst stated that this program, together with a 99-year ground lease signed in 1999 on the site, made permanent affordability economically and practically impossible. There is no guarantee that the Durst Organization will manage the property subject to a lease after the 1999 lease is expired. In response to questioning from Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, Durst confirmed that in the event the 600 West 58th Street building is converted to residential use, 20 percent of the units would also be made affordable. Stephen Lefkowitz of Fried Frank, Durst Development’s representative, testified about the lease in more detail, stating that the concept of affordable housing was not contemplated in 1999 and that the lease was unlikely to be modified by the owners. Commissioner de la Uz asked whether the period of affordability could be increased beyond 35 years and Lefkowitz stated that this was Durst Development’s decision. Carol Rosenthal, of Fried Frank, explained that although the units will be affordable for 30 to 35 years, the units would be rent stabilized after the initial affordability period until the original tenant cedes possession of the unit. Council Member Gale A. Brewer spoke in favor of the proposal and noted that she would continue to work with Durst Development on the affordability issues at the City Council level. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the New York City Audubon supported the proposal based on Durst Development’s good environmental track record in NYC.

The City Planning Commission approved the proposal with modifications on December 19, 2012. In response to the Community Board’s recommendations, Durst Development agreed to make the access drive a public open space by widening the sidewalk and adding trees and benches. City Planning added these changes to the proposal. City Planning will require Durst Development to add retail frontage at the northeast and northwest corners of West 58th Street and add display cases along areas used for mechanical purposes to enliven the streetscape. On the issue of affordability, City Planning was satisfied with Durst Development’s promise to make the units 20 percent affordable development-wide for a period of 30 to 35 years. Commissioner de la Uz voted “no” on the proposal. She stated that although she believes Durst Development will follow through on its promise to provide affordable units, the commitment should have been memorialized in the formal record. Without such a guarantee, she could not approve of the proposal.

The proposal will continue on to the City Council, with a Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee hearing scheduled for January 17, 2013.

CPC: Durst W57 (C 120396 ZMM – rezoning); (C 120397 ZSM – special permit); (C 120398 ZSM – special permit); (M 010148(A) ZMM – restrictive declaration); (M 010151(B) ZSM – special permit LSGD) (November 14, 2012) (Architect: Bjarke Ingels Group).

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