East Village and Greenwich Village residents are demanding that city officials only approve plans for a high-rise tech center if there are also protections put in place to prevent their neighborhood from becoming “midtown south.”
A 21-story commercial building at 124 E. 14th St. was proposed by the de Blasio administration, as part of the mayor’s “New York Works” initiative. It would include office space, education and job training space run by Civic Hall, retail space and a community event space, according to the proposal submitted in January.
Some residents fear the construction of the building, deemed a Tech Hub, would accelerate what they call the neighborhoods’ transformation into “midtown south” or an extension of “Silicon Alley,” while the city believes it will be economically empowering for “real New Yorkers.”
There are several other new developments in the works nearby, including a 23-story condo tower on University Place and 12th Street and a hotel under construction on 11th Street, between Third and Fourth avenues.
“They’re completely out of scale and character for the neighborhood,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP).
In an attempt to preserve the residential character of the Village and East Village, the preservation group has been trying to get zoning changes for the area passed for three years, Berman said. Their proposal would restrict the height of future developments, add affordable housing provisions to areas that don’t have it and remove an incentive for commercial development, he said.
The City Planning Commission heard testimony from residents about their concerns at a hearing Wednesday, following recommendations by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Community Board 3. Both have said they support the building, but agree with residents that there should be zoning restrictions for the surrounding area.
“The administration should commit to actions to address building heights and affordable housing needs within the immediate vicinity of the Development site,” Brewer wrote in her recommendation.
Once the CPC makes a decision on the Tech Hub, the proposal will be sent to City Council for review.
City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, whose district includes the area that would be affected by the zoning proposal, has recognized the positives the Tech Hub could bring to the neighborhood.
“This tech center has the potential to be an important digital skills training center for local residents who historically have not had access to the high-paying jobs of the tech industry,” she said in a statement to amNewYork in February.
The mayor’s office agreed. “The Union Square Tech Hub stands on its own merits. Its purpose is to provide a gateway for real New Yorkers — kids from our high schools, public housing and immigrant communities — to get training and a good paying job in tech,” Melissa Grace, deputy press secretary, said in February. “It is disappointing some groups would use the project to change unrelated zoning blocks away.”
But Rivera added she will “work toward” the rezoning the community supports.
“The adjoining development this tech hub can bring is also an important factor. I will continue to work toward the protections and rezoning that have broad community support and promote the creation of affordable housing over commercial projects — a priority in line with the values of our community.”
The GVSHP hopes for a “win-win outcome,” Berman said, one that allows the Tech Hub, but also prevents further tech-related development in the area.