Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Fitness ad flap

A West Village fitness center that affixed massive advertisements to its Greenwich Ave. building has been hit with more than a dozen violations for illegally installing the multi-story billboards.

The discovery of the ads for Equinox Fitness Club, which cover the facades fronting both Greenwich Ave. and W. 12th St., engendered a fair amount of outrage among Village residents and preservationists for being placed without permits in a historic district.

The billboards went up sometime during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation immediately took to the offensive by lodging complaints with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and Department of Buildings.

As a result, D.O.B. issued 13 violations and a partial stop-work order to Equinox for outdoor advertising without a permit, according to the department’s online records. The swift action was undoubtedly influenced by the sheer amount of complaints — 50 in all — received by D.O.B. regarding the situation.

For one, state Senator Tom Duane lauded the city’s quick response but expressed dismay that the advertisements have still not been removed.

“It is most unfortunate that Equinox management has thus far ignored the violations issued by D.O.B. as well as a warning letter for installation of billboards without a permit from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission,” Duane said in a letter to Derek Lee, Manhattan borough commissioner for the Buildings Department. “I urge D.O.B. to pursue these violations to the fullest extent of the law so that the signage is removed and all fines are paid in full,” Duane wrote.

Ratcheting up the pressure, Tuesday afternoon, D.O.B. sent Equinox a “commissioner’s order,” stating the billboards must be removed in 48 hours.

Bleecker St. battle

Village preservationists scored another victory when the city recently ruled that a plan to construct an eight-story building on an otherwise low-rise stretch of Bleecker St. does not conform to the character of the neighborhood.

According to G.V.S.H.P.’s Andrew Berman, whose organization rallied in front of the now-demolished, five-story row house at 178 Bleecker St. last October, the Department of Buildings intends to revoke the permits it previously granted the developer to erect a roughly 80-foot-tall building on the narrow lot.

The former 1861 row house sat on a lot that is only 22 feet wide, and the city’s “sliver law” dictates that buildings narrower than 45 feet cannot be constructed taller than the width of the streets they face. Bleecker St. is registered as 60 feet wide, making the proposed eight stories — or about 80 feet — in violation of the law.

The property also backs up to the MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District, bounded by Bleecker, MacDougal, Sullivan and Houston Sts., an area G.V.S.H.P. claims would be negatively affected by a new structure nearly twice the size of its surrounding buildings.

The preservation group had fought unsuccessfully to landmark 178 Bleecker St. before its demolition as part of a larger push to designate 800 buildings over 38 blocks as the South Village Historic District. As of now, however, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission has only surveyed the blocks west of Sixth Ave. for possible designation.

The developer of 178 Bleecker St. now has 15 days to reply to the city’s ruling before a final decision is made.

Hard-hat deaths down

The number of construction-related fatalities in the city dropped significantly last year, going from 19 in 2008 to just three in 2009, according to the Department of Buildings.

The city counted 12 construction-related deaths in 2007 and 18 in 2006, making last year one of the safest in recent memory.

The real estate bust undoubtedly contributed to the decrease, with initial permits issued for major construction projects down 33 percent last year.

“While the tough economic times have slowed down construction, more contractors, developers and licensed professionals are integrating safety into their practices, and this city is a safer place for it,” said D.O.B. Commissioner Robert LiMandri in a statement.

LiMandri took over for former D.O.B. Commissioner Patricia Lancaster when she resigned from the post following a deadly crane collapse on the East Side in 2008.

D.O.B. noted that two of the deaths last year came as a result of workers not properly using a required safety harness.

The total number of reported construction accidents rose from 151 in 2008 to 224 in 2009, the department noted, and the total number of reported injuries rose from 178 in 2008 to 246 in 2009. According to D.O.B., “the increase in accident reporting exemplifies that more industry members understand the importance of construction safety and the need for change within the industry’s culture.”

Hudson Sq. news

A new cafe/newsstand inked a deal for nearly 1,500 square feet of ground-floor space on Varick St.

Hudson Square Mart signed a 12-year lease for the space at 225 Varick St., between Carmine and Downing Sts., joining retailers HSBC, Lucy Browne’s and New York Sports Club at the address.

Asking rent for the space in the block-long, 12-story office building was in the mid-$50s per square foot, according to property landlord Trinity Real Estate.

The new tenants operate a similar shop, Baja News Cafe, in Midtown.