Tribeca Traffic Island Remains Forlorn, Despite Developer Promises in Exchange for Zoning Variance
Community Board 1 is trying to hold a developer to a bargain made five years ago, but never memorialized in writing. The deal committed builder DDG, which is erecting a large new residential and retail structure on a tiny former parking lot in Tribeca, to refurbish a nearby traffic island into a small park.
This quid pro quo first arose in 2014, when the firm announced plans to build on the small parcel, which fronts Sixth Avenue, between Franklin and White Streets, but asked for a zoning variance, claiming that the legal requirement to make the structure narrower on its upper floors was unworkable, because of the unusual configuration of the plot on which it was located. (The erstwhile parking lot was shaped like two triangles, joined at a single, narrow point.)
The City’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) granted the exemption to allow a controversial project to proceed, with DDG’s design calling for a structure six floors tall on the portion of the lot that adjoined Franklin Street, and another building, rising eight stories high, on the lot adjacent to White Street. These buildings will share a continuous brick facade, making them appear to passersby like a single structure, will house high-end retail on the ground floor, along with ten luxury condominium apartments above.
The waiver on the requirement for the building to taper back at its upper floors created more than a thousand additional square feet of valuable space within the structure, arguably increasing its value by several million dollars.
In exchange for this consideration, DDG promised to fund the upgrade of a nearby median into a new park. The Broadsheet noted in 2015 that, “as part of its negotiations with the City, DDG has also agreed to pay for the transformation of a triangular traffic island in front of their site into a vest-pocket park.” This arrangement was also noted in multiple other publications at the time.
But now, as the building nears completion, DDG has broken off contact with community leaders and City officials. And local leaders have discovered that the written confirmation of this agreement is missing — if it ever existed in the first place.
At the May 28 meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), Paul Goldstein, who chairs that panel’s Waterfront, Parks, and Cultural Committee, explained, “this is a triangle located on White Street, between Church Street and Sixth Avenue, just outside the Roxy Hotel. It’s basically in pretty decayed condition, and is not much of anything.”
“Back in 2014, the developer came before this Community Board and requested approval for a building that he subsequently received and has built,” Mr. Goldstein continued. “In the course of those discussions, he made certain promises to this Community Board — specifically to work with the Department of Transportation to design and improve that space for the community.”
In recent months, he added, “the community has made countless efforts,” noting that CB1’s Director of Planning and Land Use, Diana Switaj, “has been on the phone and attempted to reach the developer multiple times, with very little success.”
Ms. Switaj added, “the office of City Council member Margaret Chin also reached out to them, and they didn’t get back to her, which seems really egregious.” She continued, “part of the problem is that this agreement was never captured in the BSA paperwork,” that approved the zoning variance requested by DDG. “We’ve inquired with the Department of Transportation, and they say that plans were never filed.”
Laura Starr, who serves on CB1’s Land Use, Zoning, and Economic Development Committee, observed, “we never got anything in writing. There was nothing locked in.”
CB1 chair Anthony Notaro agreed, “that was the problem. We should have got it in writing, but it didn’t happen. And now this developer has gone completely silent. We need to get this restarted.”
Mr. Goldstein concurred, saying, “clearly, if we had something in writing, that would have been great.” He then introduced a resolution, explaining, “our purpose is to go on record and ask our elected officials to pursue this on our behalf.”
“The resolution says, ‘you made certain promises,’ and that we want to move forward,” he summarized.
The measure, which passed by a large majority states, “there is no sign of any improvement to [the traffic island], nor has the Community Board seen any pending plans,” and notes that, “CB1 has repeatedly asked DDG to come before the Community Board for more than a year to update us on this promised plaza improvement, but DDG has not been willing to attend any meeting thus far and we remain in the dark as to their plans.”
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