Preservationists to pols: Protect Village from ‘tech spread’

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | The Village area’s leading preservation group is calling on local politicians to make good on what it says were promises to protect the East Village from becoming a “Silicon Alley.”

On June 28, Village Preservation sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Carlina Rivera, outlining a list of protections it says were promised a year ago when upzoning for the planned Tech Hub, at 124 E. 14th St., was approved by the City Planning Commission. The preservationists argue that since no steps have been taken to keep fulfill those alleged pledges, the surrounding streets are slowly morphing into an extension of “Midtown South.”

A design rendering of the planned Tech Hub, on E. 14th St. between Third and Fourth Aves.

During her 2017 City Council campaign, Rivera expressed support for the Tech Hub provided that the city enact some zoning measures to protect the surrounding area from commercial and residential development. But when the City Council’s Zoning Subcommittee and Land Use Committee both voted to approve the proposed upzoning for the site last year, Rivera voted for the required rezoning for the project without the protections. 

According to the preservation group’s letter, another protective measure that was promised but has yet to be started was a campaign to teach nearby residents in rent-stabilized buildings about their rights and how to recognize signs of tenant harassment. 

In the meantime, demolition of the former P.C. Richard & Son store and construction of the Tech Hub on the site has begun and the “effects of the upzoning have already been felt,” the letter reads. Those “effects” include the destruction of the former St. Denis Hotel, at 11th St. and Broadway, and the three historic low-scale buildings at the northeast corner of Third Ave. and St. Mark’s Place to make way for a “boutique office building.” 

Another broken promise claimed in the letter, this time by the Tech Hub’s developer, RAL Development Services, has hurt the neighborhood in a different way. 

“The developer has encroached upon the sidewalk and two or three lanes of eastbound traffic, forcing pedestrians waiting for the bus to stand in the street,” the letter states. As a result, buses have to use one open lane to pick up and drop off passengers, during which all eastbound traffic is blocked on 14th St. 

“It is deeply disturbing to see that a full year after the approval, while the developer has moved full-steam ahead with their project, there has been no movement whatsoever on any of these incredibly modest protections which were promised,” Andrew Berman, director of Village Preservation, wrote in the June 28 letter to de Blasio and Rivera.

Rivera spokesperson Jeremy Unger said the councilmember was proud that work is moving forward on the tech training center, which Rivera believes will help bring low-income residents and people of color from the Lower East Side into the tech world. Unger pushed back against claims that no measures related to preservation and tenant protection in the area around the Tech Hub have taken place. He cited the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s recent designation of seven historic buildings along the Broadway corridor as individual landmarks; “Know Your Rights” tenant resource fairs with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development that are set to start this month; the City Council allocating funds to protect the historic Merchant’s House; and continued meetings with L.P.C. on the possibility of further landmarking in the area.

“Councilwoman Rivera is continuing discussions with the administration on additional protective zoning measures,” Unger assured. “Our office will work hand in hand with the project’s community advisory board to ensure that staging and safety measures are following Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Department of Transportation and Department of Buildings protocols, in light of the most current 14th St. transit projects.”

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