Tuesday, January 06, 2009

BID can't take "no" for an answer

Last night the well-heeled LES Business Improvement District -- the development interest, rarely visible -- presented itself at last before the unwashed community. CB3's Economic Development and Planning Committee filled with black suits, more well-dressed tailoring than I've seen at the CB since ... well, I've never seen anyone well-dressed at the CB, a scarce virtue I appreciate.

The BID wants the rezoning south of Houston -- the part of the rezoning that protects the LES from more hotels -- revised. Instead of the new 4 FAR, they want 6.

That's a 50% increase, friends. 6 FAR, by the way, was the FAR under the old zoning. They are proposing a roll back.

Six months ago a Chinatown group was roundly criticized and soundly excoriated for having entered the process late in the game. Now, when the three-year-plus process is finally over and done, sealed and celebrated, the BID requests, not a small alteration of detail, but a full 50% more commercial bulk.

The BID says that the additional 50% bulk won't be visible from the street because commercial buildings can use a bit more backyard space than residential buildings (in fact, however, additional backyard space can add only 10% additional FAR) and the new zoning will cap all heights at 80 feet. An 80-foot 6 FAR building, says the BID, looks just like an 80-foot 4 FAR building.

That's true, except a typical 4 FAR building doesn't rise beyond 60 feet. The existing tenements there are 5-6 story 3-4 FAR buildings. Offering 6 FAR is an invitation to roof-top additions at least, if not wholesale redevelopment, all dependent on residential evictions for commercial conversion throughout the entire neighborhood. Their proposal is worse than the old zoning in which the selling of air rights protected many old buildings. Under the BID plan, all buildings would be equally vulnerable to conversion and redevelopment.

In their proposed package the BID offers to forgo hotel development and to press the city to include special anti-harassment measures to protect current residents from eviction.

They know that Board members want anti-harassment measures and want protection against hotel development. But those members expressed healthy skepticism: anti-harassment measures are a thumb in the dyke against the flood of commercial pressure. Far from easing the pressure, they are a weak reactive, with the burden of effort entirely on the victim. Besides, City Planning has a history of picking apart proposal packages, accepting changes it likes and tossing the rest. The BID's package, edited by DCP, would give us 6 FAR, hotels everywhere and no harassment protection.

No one asked, so no one told, just what kind of commercial development the BID wants if not hotels. It was pointed out that New York developers have made an art of building hotels to take advantage of added commercial bulk, later converting them to residences, where the money is.

No comments: