This week a number of important issues bubbled to the surface Downtown and the season of controversy is upon us.
But first, a word from Donald Trump. It seems that Hudson Square is suffering from landlord overload. Trinity Real Estate, typically, refuses to comment upon a statement made by the Trump people that they plan to construct a major hotel in the Holland Tunnel area (50 stories was the number). As the major landowner and developer in the Varick Street corridor, compliments of the Queen, Trinity would likely have insider information -- especially if it was one of their parcels. While the Canal/Grand/Avenue of the Americas/Varick Street block for which Trinity already has construction approvals is slated for demolition and development, it appears to be the rumored location. This Trinity office tower site has ostensibly been delayed because they have not found an anchor tenant; however, that project was only approved for 21 stories. The Trinity project is located in a Manufacturing zone and all things are possible if enough money is thrown at it. Another vacant site nearby is located at Varick Street between Spring and Dominick and is currently a parking lot that is ripe for development. Since zoning permits manufacturing and hotel use without a variance, we may not know about it until he cranes show up.
The Tunnel Garage, which has sparked controversy in SoHo, is slated for demolition unless the City can be convinced that we are losing a landmark AND parking space at the same time. While the 74-712 special text amendment to the Zoning regulations was implemented by the City Council to permit development of vacant lots with City Council oversight, not all developers have chosen to go that expedited route. GVSHP has come to SoHo for this one and Andrew Berman fortunately has weighed in on it. It is difficult to say what the outcome is likely to be. Even major news organizations have become interested in the pace of development Downtown and some observers, like David Reck of Community Board #2's Zoning Committee, tell us that there is a whole slate of new projects coming through on the West Side. Perhaps when some of the electeds cannot find a place to park, more attention will be paid to this developing crisis.
Speaking of which, in a dramatic reversal of Community Board #2's policy, Maria Derr (Chair of that Board) permitted a vote to go forward on a controversial resolution directed at NYU development. After a contentious Zoning Committee meeting two weeks ago, in which long suffering Village residents were very agitated and vociferous over not getting the Board's committee to pass a resolution, Derr apparently relented and allowed the resolution to be presented at the Full Board for a vote. It passed easily and quickly and many activists and members of the community were appreciative of her ability to do an about face without a lot of fanfare. Her official stance had been that a more in-depth hearing was needed in front of a joint Institutions and Zoning Committee meeting was logical but, according to some, unnecessary given the fact that this issue has been ignored for decades. While Bob Rinaolo, Chair of Institutions Committee, was noticeably irritated that it bypassed his committee, it quickly passed on the Board floor.
Zella Jones, of the NoHo Neighborhood Association, and organizer of the upcoming Town Hall meeting to be held on March 2nd at the Public Theater -- was successful in convincing the Community Board to overturn a contentious liquor license application (B-flat)affecting NoHo. A number of speakers made it known that a bar at that 26 Bond Street location was a potential disaster in the making. Not only did the building in which the bar/restaurant was to be located lack a C.O., but it also suffered from a lack of a sprinkler system. For many, visions of a flaming inferno with trapped patrons fleeing a bar approved by the Community Board, was enough for them to deny the application. John Diaz, Chair of the Business Committee appeared to be ambivalent about opposition to this application and seemed to take the reversal in stride.
This week also saw continuing salvos spread through the community by nightlife operatives and lobbyists who have been hired to undermine the growing sentiment against the "All bars all the time" mentality as the primary business of Downtown. First came attempts by some nightlife Community Board #2 members to claim activists were discriminating against minorities. Then came anonymous personal attacks and dirty tricks which were reminiscent of the Nixon years -- again, directed at those who question the sanity and intelligence of Business interests who apparently want no limit on the number of liquor licenses issued -- no matter how the community feels. Scott Stringer's office, the new Borough President, has been the indirect focus of these baseless attacks since the obvious reason for them has been to affect his expected reform of the Boards. Attack the community activists, the theory goes, and Stringer will be loath to remove Board members who clearly are part of the old Virginia Fields bar owners clique. And so numerous Community Board members (especially on Community Board #2)who are nervous about the conflict of interest allegations have adopted the defensive strategy of attacking the community and its activists.
As if to underscore the seriousness of this issue, rumors abound that not only is the Attorney General investigating the S.L.A. for corruption (all S.L.A hearings were cancelled this week, for at least one week), but interest has also been peaked at Bob Morgenthau's office. Lobbyists recruited by the nightlife association are considered prime suspects by Downtown insiders.
The Community's response to this attempted coercion, libel and slander has overwhelmingly been to crank up the activity and hold a public forum with a respectful, but firm attitude toward the electeds. The message is decidedly clear. The community expects some action.
Alan Gerson, Deborah Glick, Scott Stringer, and Rosie Mendez are expected to be appear and address the audience. They are community-oriented officials who need and want your support.
Even Tom Duane, whose office and staff (past and present) has been wrestling with this issue of Bar/Lounge proliferation is expected to make an appearance. There is no doubt that he has devoted time to this. So let him and those who have been close to him, clearly know where you stand, as well.
Come to Luesther Hall at the Public Theater on March 2nd at 425 Lafayette Street -- between Astor Place and East 4th Street -- at 7 p.m. and make your feelings known about liquor licenses and S.L.A. reform, land use and traffic issues. Your (quality of) life depends on it.
The event is being sponsored by the NoHo Neighborhood Association, the SoHo Alliance, LESA, and the SoHo Journal.