It’s only the end of the beginning of waterfront fight


By Andrew Berman

I was elated when the city announced, following our May 14 march to Save the Far West Village, that they would release downzoning and landmarking plans for the Far West Village in June. Last year, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, working in concert with the Greenwich Village Community Task Force, the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port and our elected officials, submitted landmarking and downzoning proposals to the city for their consideration, which quickly garnered the support of nearly every community group in the Village, every citywide, statewide and national historic preservation organization, and — unusually — a large percentage of the property owners in the area proposed for landmarking and downzoning. Additionally, literally thousands of people have turned out for our marches and rallies, and sent letters, e-mails and postcards to the city urging that our proposals — to protect all the historic buildings in the Far West Village, and to impose height and bulk limits for new developments of three to a maximum of about seven or eight stories — be adopted right away.

So when the city announced that they were releasing their own plans in response to our proposals, it sounded like we had arrived at last. After all, the city had publicly stated that they recognized the need to protect the special character of this area, and that our call for historic protections was being heard.

However, the devil, as they say, is in the details.

Already we have heard that the site of the planned Lehman Brothers/Witkoff blockbuster development at 150-160 Charles St./303 W. 10th St. has been carved out of the downzoning, which would allow the current plans for a quarter million-square-foot, 200-foot-tall building to go forward. And we hear that the Superior Ink site, where we requested that the existing manufacturing zoning — which does not allow residential development — be left in place, is to be rezoned to allow residential development. This is the site where Related Companies is seeking to build yet another blockbuster development, which could be facilitated by such a zoning change.

What is going on here?

From my conversations with the city, I am confident that their downzoning plan for the neighborhood will make many important changes that will help preserve the neighborhood’s scale and character. But to carve out pieces to accommodate gargantuan development schemes violates both the spirit and the letter of what the community has been asking for, and what we had understood the city to have said they were striving for as well.

It’s also been reported that the city’s landmarking plan may include areas around Weehawken St. and Charles Ln., but little else has thus far been mentioned. Could it possibly be that out of the 14-block proposal we submitted — including more than 111 historic buildings, nearly half dating from the 19th century — that only a few tiny spots are all the city thinks are worthy of preservation? Or that such a move would be seen by the community as the real “landmarking plan” we had been promised, truly recognizing and preserving the historic character of this neighborhood, as the city said it would? After all, its not just thousands of Villagers who have called for passage of the plan G.V.S.H.P. submitted, but the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation League of New York State, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and literally scores of block associations, preservation groups, tenants associations and co-op and condo boards from across not only the Village but the entire city. While we never expected to get everything we asked for from the city, could they really be so out of step with such a broad range of groups and people — and their own public statements — that they would think that this would be acceptable?

The short answer is: we don’t know yet, and we won’t know for sure until later in June. That’s why it’s more important now than ever that we keep up the pressure on the city, much as we have for the last year and a half. Because it’s not over yet, and clearly — in spite of their pleasant rhetoric — the city may still need to be convinced of what is truly needed to preserve this historic neighborhood.

So the fight continues, and your help is needed now more than ever. We are urging people to send letters to the city telling them that while you’re glad that downzoning and landmarking plans for the Far West Village are moving ahead, they MUST be comprehensive enough to truly protect this entire neighborhood. You can go to www.gvshp.org/ FWVletters.htm on our Web site for sample letters and contact information to do so.

We are also urging people to come to the critically important presentation of the city’s draft rezoning plan for the Far West Village on Thurs., June 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the N.Y.U. Silver Building, 32 Waverly Pl. (east of Washington Sq.), room 703, to find out exactly what the city is considering, and weigh in before the plan is certified on June 20 and becomes official.

Finally, we are urging people to mobilize their neighbors for this effort by posting a flier (which can be downloaded at www.gvshp.org/documents/RezoningHrng.pdf) in their building or on their street, to urge your neighbors to turn out for the June 9 meeting and to write to the city in support of a real downzoning and landmarking plan.

A year and a half ago, the chances of any sort of landmarking or downzoning in the Far West Village seemed virtually nonexistent. Now, as a result of the community’s tenacious activism and lobbying, the city is poised to release plans which may finally preserve some of the historic buildings and scale of this neighborhood. But if we want all of our neighborhood preserved before it is too late, we must hold the city accountable right now — to their promises to enact meaningful downzoning and landmarking measures, and to their claim to respect and want to preserve our neighborhood’s character. We’ve come this far — let’s make sure we don’t let our last chance to truly preserve the Far West Village slip through our fingers.

Berman is executive director, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation