Zoning Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Ladies’ Mile Residential Tower [UPDATE: Subcommittee Modifies, Approves 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

The proposed building would be located in a commercial district on a present-day parking lot.  On April 23, 2015 the City Council Subcommitee on Zoning and Franchises held a public hearing on 39 West 23rd Street, LLC’s proposal for a residential tower at 39-41 West 23rd Street in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District of Manhattan.  The proposal would build the tower, made of two building segments reaching a maximum height of 278 feet, on a through-lot between West 23rd and West 24th Streets.  The tower would feature 43 residential units, 800 square feet of ground floor retail space, and an underground parking garage for fifty vehicles and twenty-nine bicycles.

On December 11, 2014 Manhattan Community Board 5 voted to recommend disapproval of the project as a residential tower, stating Ladies’ Mile has traditionally been a manufacturing and commercial district and to grant the permit would encourage spot-zoning in needed commercial space.  On January 27, 2015 Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also recommended disapproval of the residential use, echoing CB 5’s concerns and further arguing so few residential units would not merit such a significant change in the area’s landscape and traditional usage.  On March 30, 2015 the City Planning Commission voted to approve the proposal.  In its final report, the Commission noted the Board and Borough President’s concerns, but stated there is virtually no manufacturing presence on West 23rd Street and the neighborhood has been slowly converting into a residential district for some time.  The Commission also noted the applicant agreed to include affordable housing units following City Planning’s public hearing.

At the Council hearing, Councilmember and Zoning Chair Mark Weprin asked whether any of CB 5’s concerns with the project had been addressed.  Michael Sillerman of Kramer Levin and project counsel testified the Board’s concerns were addressed by City Planning in noting there was no manufacturing on West 23rd Street that a residential tower could threaten.  Councilmember Jumaane Williams asked whether the number affordable units in the building could go up, while expressing sympathy for the challenges in building on an irregular-shaped lot and in a historic district.  Paul Travis, land use counsel to the applicant, testified the lot’s physical constraints and cost of development limited how many units they could place per floor which in turn prohibited an increase in the number of affordable units.

Councilmember Weprin ended the hearing, promising a vote at a later date while the applicant and Councilmember Corey Johnson, who represents Ladies’ Mile, continued to discuss details of the proposal.

City Council:  Public Hearing LU 0209-2015, LU 0210-2015 (Apr. 23, 2015).

UPDATE:  On May 5, 2015 the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee voted 8-0 to approve the proposed tower, with modifications.  The modification restricts the availability of the tower’s four affordable housing units, limiting two to tenants making no more than 80 percent of the area median income.  The remaining two units are limited to tenants making no more than 130 percent AMI.  The modified proposal has been referred back to City Planning for approval.

City Council: Public Hearing LU 0209-2015, LU 0210-2015 (May 5, 2015).

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

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