Out of the zone

At first glance, one might ask what the big deal is with John Zaccaro’s application for a zoning change on Sullivan St. to allow him to keep commercial use at his property at 73-75 Sullivan St. After all, there’s already a commercial use in part of the property, in the form of the quaint and delicious Grandaisy bakery. Next door, in the other part of the property, there used to be a popular pasta store.

However, these commercial uses were grandfathered on a residential street, meaning that if the property is razed in order to rebuild — as in Zaccaro’s current plan to construct a new, five-story apartment building — then the grandfathered commercial zoning is lost. Zaccaro is seeking a zoning change that would allow him to keep the commercial zoning by adding a commercial overlay to this residential block.

Neighbors, though, rightly point out that, if this change were made, it would transform for the worse this quiet, unique street’s charming, low-key character. Right now, Zaccaro doesn’t want to give a long-term lease to his existing commercial tenant, the bakery, because he has plans to demolish the building. But if he gets the zoning change, he would surely try to lure a high-profile, destination-type tenant — like a Diesel or Chanel store, or perhaps a large restaurant or bar — with a long-term lease, since at that point, he would be in a position to make such an offer. That would represent the “Soho-ization” of this South Village street.

This quirky street is currently home to an enticing mix of shops and stores. In addition to Grandaisy, there’s a place where one can get delicious Greek meat pies or spinach pies or thick Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts. Until recently, there was a shop that sold pillows and sofa bolsters upholstered in pieces of old Turkish, hand-woven rugs; the proprietor would regale customers with tales from Turkish history. The pasta shop used to have excellent food, too, though that space more recently briefly became a nightspot and performance venue that earned neighbors’ ire.

A couple of years ago, a neighbor cultivated a “pirate garden” on the block’s west side, turning a forlorn strip of soil into a verdant oasis that attracted birds, bees and butterflies.

In short, this street never had a commercial overlay, like MacDougal St. north of Houston St. or main cross-town thoroughfares like Spring and Bleecker Sts. To impose this sort of commercial use on Sullivan St. would kill the very qualities that make it so special.

There’s a reason why New York City has zoning — a reason why quiet, residential blocks like this stretch of Sullivan St. don’t have commercial uses other than grandfathered ones: It’s to separate these uses, residential from commercial and vice a versa. Community Board 2 has already weighed in against the application, as has the borough president.

If the City Planning Commission — which ultimately will decide on this application in the next couple of weeks — were to grant this zoning change, it would no doubt have significant ripple effects. For example, if plans to build a hotel on a former parking lot on Sixth Ave. across from this spot ever actually come to pass, the developer might well decide to put the hotel’s main entrance on Sullivan St. to give onto the large new glitzy store or super-hot restaurant or bar there. Needless to say, if it ever gets built, the hotel’s having its entrance on Sullivan St. would totally destroy the street’s dynamic.

In the end, this zoning-change application must be decided on the basis of whether it is in the public’s good. It is, certainly, beneficial to this private developer. But marring this street’s special character is most definitely not in the public’s best interest.