Noise Complaints Aside, Theatre May Violate Zoning Laws


BY SAM SPOKONY  |  Chelsea’s cell theatre may be facing trouble that goes further than noise complaints from its neighbors, as the Department of Buildings (DOB) is now investigating possible zoning violations at the building.

This newspaper previously reported that the theatre, at 338 West 23rd Street (between Eight and Ninth Avenues), has taken flak from some West 22nd Street residents whose windows open onto its outdoor, backyard space — an area that the theatre has, during the summer, used for rehearsals and performances of Shakespeare plays, as well as jazz concerts and various party rentals.

And although no official action has yet been taken, it now looks as though the cell may not be legally able to use its backyard for any of those purposes.

According to a February 5 email forwarded to Chelsea Now by Huck Hirsch, a West 22nd Street resident who has made numerous complaints about the cell, a DOB official stated that commercial activity is not allowed in that rear yard, since it is considered accessory only to residential use.

It’s unclear how the Department is handling that discrepancy at this point, because a spokesperson for the agency, in response to questions about the legal use of the backyard, declined to comment on that particular issue.

But the spokesperson did say, in a February 11 email, that the DOB is “investigating complaints about the use of this building as a theater.”

And based on city zoning regulations, it would seem that the cell may not even be able to hold theatrical performances inside, regardless of the outdoor issue. According to the Certificate of Occupancy for 338 West 23rd Street (accessible on the DOB’s website), the building is zoned for commercial use group 6, which includes eating and drinking establishments. Theatres are considered a different category — use group 8.

Online records show that on February 6, the DOB inspected the site for that very purpose, and found that “no violation was warranted.” But, apparently, the Department is still in the process of what could be a more detailed investigation — so enforcement may be forthcoming.

For now, the cell can only wait with baited breath, regarding future city rulings on the use of its outdoor space, as well as the possibility of new investigations inside. And that’s exactly what Kira Simring, the theatre’s artistic director, said she was doing when reached for comment on the night of February 11.

“As far as I know, we were never doing anything we weren’t allowed to do, and I’m not aware of any zoning problems,” she said. “I’m just hoping for the best, but it is what it is, and there’s obviously nothing I can do to control it at this point.”