Silk Building Residents Oppose Broadway Development for Loss of Light and Air

LPC approved rendering of the proposed development at 688 Broadway in the NoHo Historic District. Image Credit: BKSK Architects

LPC approved rendering of the proposed development at 688 Broadway in the NoHo Historic District. Image Credit: BKSK Architects.

Landmarks approved development project to be built on vacant lot in the NoHo Historic District: Project now before Planning Commission. On February 5, 2014, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing for an application by Downtown Re Holdings LLC for special permits for a proposed mixed-use development located on 688 Broadway, between West 4th and Great Jones Streets in the NoHo Historic District. The special permits would allow Use Group 2 residential uses on the second through twelfth floors of a 15-unit development, and would waive set back requirements along Broadway. The lot at 688 Broadway had been a vacant lot since the 1960s, when two loft buildings were demolished until, for the last twenty years, a street level outdoor marketplace occupied the lot. The Landmarks Preservation Commission issued a certificate of appropriateness for the development on October 9, 2012 (See CityLand coverage here).

Mitchell Korbey of Herrick Feinstein LLP testified on behalf of Downtown Re Holdings, and stated that the special permits would allow the developers to build a mixed-use building instead of an as of right commercial building or hotel. Korbey acknowledged concerns raised by tenants of the neighboring Silk Building, located on 14 East 4th Street, regarding the impact that the new development would have on the light and air of the Silk Building’s residents. Korbey noted that the developers are permitted to build on the lot as of right, which would cover just as many, if not more of the lot line windows in the Silk Building.

George Schieferdecker of BKSK Architects, representing Downtown Re Holdings, stated that all the apartments in the Silk Building will continue to meet legal light and air requirements from the front and back of the buildings even after the development has been built. Schieferdecker stated that keeping the bulk of the building forward would create less of an issue for the lot line windows in the back of the Silk Building. He also noted that lot line windows are not allowed to be used for legal light and air and can be filled up.

Silk Building residents Frank Jarmin stated that the development would have devastating effects on light and air in the Silk Building. Jarmin stated that the development would “break up 27 large south facing windows” and render22 HVAC units useless. According to Jarmin, the vast majority of the windows are bedrooms, nurseries, living rooms, and artist studios, and loss of the windows would mean people would “lose the only light, air conditioning, and ventilation on the entire floor of [their] particular unit.” For some units, without the window, “the closet point of light and air in a room would be all the way on the other end of the apartment, at the other end of the building.” A petition opposing the special permits was signed by nearly all of the residents of the Silk Building.

Residents of the Silk Building also raised concerns regarding loss of view, the potential negative impact on the lateral support of the Silk Building as a result of proposed development’s cellar and subcellar, and the questionable conveyance of portions of Great Jones Alley, which abuts both the Silk Building and 688 Broadway. Silk Building resident Tristram Clemenson stated that the zoning lot did not exist as of December 15, 2003, and is therefore not eligible for a special permit. Resident Bill Rosser noted a contradiction in the claims of ownership in Great Jones Alley. He stated that “for the purpose of the special permit, the developer claims that it is a completely separate lot,” but for the purpose of ownership, “the lot is claimed to be part of a developed property.”

Commissioner Irwin G. Cantor stated that the ownership issues with the lot in Great Jones Alley are legal questions outside of the purview of the City Planning Commission. Commissioner Cantor stated that the Silk Building residents “may have to find someone who is well versed in this arcane issue” involving the interpretation of the zoning text.

Zella Jones, President of NoHo Bowery Stakeholders Inc., testified in support of the application and  the design of the building designed by BKSK Architects. She also stated that the developers and architects have been in communication with the community about the project at the development stage. David Schwartz, Vice President of Downtown Re Holdings, testified that they “have spent a lot of time working with various neighbors” on Broadway and on Great Jones Alley.” Schwartz said that Downtown Re Holdings is willing to continue discussions with the Silk Building residents.

Manhattan Community Board 2 issued a negative recommendation for the application based on the coverage of lot line windows of the neighboring Silk Building.

Michael Sandler testified on behalf of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in support of the application. Sandler stated that the small number of apartments in the proposed building “make it unlikely to adversely affect surrounding uses.” Sandler acknowledged the concerns that have been raised regarding the zoning lot size as it relates to inclusion of portions of Great Jones Alley. Sandler stated that Section 74-712 of the Zoning Text is “vague and could be interpreted to mean that the development cannot use two zoning lots for the special permit.” He continued that in the past, however, the Commission has allowed Section 74-712 developments “to occupy multiple zoning lots.” Sandler cited the recent approval of the 300 Lafayette development as a good example, and stated that allowing special permits in these instances “fits with the legislative intent to encourage the development of vacant lots in a historic district.”

Sandler added that Downtown Re Holdings “should work with residents of the Silk Building to minimize the impact on the affected properties.” He mentioned that the developers have “committed to building a slit between the buildings to allow tubing for the affected HVAC systems up to the roof.” Downtown Re Holdigs also “offered to pay for a significant portion of the expense to the Silk Building and offered engineering and construction assistance.”

Following testimony, Vice Chairman Kenneth J. Knuckles closed the hearing.

CPC: 688 Broadway (C 140066 ZSM – Special Permit) (C 140056 ZSM Special Permit) (February 5, 2014).

By: Jennifer Baek (Jennifer is a CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2013).

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