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At Landmarks Hearing, Outcry Against Hotel Adjacent Merchant’s House Museum

LPC Merchant's House MeetingSuzanne Rozdeba

Preservationists, politicians, and neighborhood residents asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission yesterday to nix, or at least limit the height of, a proposed hotel that they fear will damage the historic Merchant’s House Museum.

Speaking to about 70 people at a public hearing at One Centre Street, City Council member Rosie Mendez, who said she had allotted close to a million dollars for museum renovations, asked that the nine-story, 32-room hotel be scaled back to three and a half stories, to match the height of the neighboring museum. The commission must approve the application because the proposed site is within the NoHo Historic District Extension.

“In this city, when we have great buildings, and it tells something about our history, and our communities, we landmark them,” she said. “And the Merchant’s House Museum is one of those buildings.” The councilwoman asked for a protection plan that would require the developer to pay for any damage as well as for the expense of moving artifacts during construction. Supporters of the national landmark, built in 1832, believe that any construction could cause damage to its interior Greek Revival architecture and its Federal-style brick exterior.

Edward Carroll, the project’s controversial designer, argued that the Bowery was already home to buildings that were taller than the hotel proposed for East Fourth Street, and said it would have a “tri-part design” that would “put it in context with the loft buildings that are typical to the late 1800s and early 1900s in this particular neighborhood.” He also pointed to Great Jones Street, one block south. “There’s a lot of similarities to be seen, with the heights of 100 feet, 80 feet, interposed between each other on one block.” He said the façade would be made of a dark-grey steel and surrounded by a limestone frame. Read more…

C.B. 2 to Mendez and Chin: City Council Too Soft on N.Y.U. 2031

N.Y.U. 2031 reductionN.Y.U. Red lines indicate the reduction of the boomerang
buildings on the northern block.

At a meeting attended by Rosie Mendez and Margaret Chin last night, members of Community Board 2 spoke out against the scaled-back version of N.Y.U.’s controversial expansion plan that the two City Council members supported earlier this week.

Ms. Chin said she wanted to explain the “compromise” she helped work out, which she said reduced above-ground space associated with N.Y.U. 2031 by an additional 17.4 percent, or 212,000 square feet.

The modified plan would cut the Mercer Street building from 11 stories to four, and shrink the height of towers in the Zipper Building. Over all, according to Ms. Chin’s newsletter for her district, it represents a reduction of 26 percent or 352,000 square feet from the original proposal that was certified in January.

Residents last night were clearly disappointed that the City Council’s land use committee had approved the plan by a vote of 19-1, with the Council’s subcommittee on zoning also voting in favor of it. “I know people aren’t happy,” Ms. Chin said, to sardonic laughter. “It’s a compromise. But I want you to look at what we’ve been able to achieve with density and open space, because the City Council will vote on this issue.” Read more…

After Vow to Stay and Fight, a Move to Washington Heights

Sue PalhakSarah Darville Sue Palchak-Essenpreis

When Council Member Rosie Mendez joined the residents of three buildings on Third Street last month to protest the non-renewal of their leases, Sue Palchak-Essenpreis vowed to stay put past the end of her lease on May 14. And she did just that: her one-bedroom apartment is still jam-packed with bookshelves, and plants are perched on almost every windowsill. But last night, she signed a new lease for an apartment in Washington Heights. On July 4, she’ll move out of her third-floor apartment at 50 East Third Street. But first, she has an appointment downtown.

On Friday, she and her husband Greg Essenpreis will appear in Housing Court in hopes that a judge will keep them from having to pay the legal fees of their landlord, Abe Haruvi. That would mark the end of the high-profile protest against the owner of 50, 54, and 58 East Third Street, who did not renew the leases of some 17 tenants whose contracts with his company, Abart Holdings, were running out this summer. After a few months of outcry, most of the buildings’ residents are now moving on.

Since Ms. Palchak-Essenpreis began organizing tenants, she said, there has been more fleeing than fighting. “There has been a different moving truck in front of the building almost every day for the last two weeks,” she admitted. “After I sent off the e-mail – ‘We’re going to court!’ – it was like a cartoon: everyone ran off.” Read more…

Cameras at Campos Plaza Can’t Come Soon Enough for Residents

DSC08936Suzanne Rozdeba Attendees at last night’s meeting regarding the new cameras.

Residents of Campos Plaza expressed optimism last night that new high-tech security cameras would deter the violence that they said has left many of them living in fear.

“I am scared for a lot of our lives here in this development. I am scared for our kids, for ourselves, for our elderly, for us all,” said Dereese Huff, president of the Campos Plaza tenants association. “We need these cameras.”

The surveillance equipment, financed by Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, will be installed in pathways, playgrounds and lobbies around the houses bordered by East 13th and 14th Streets and Avenues B and C. Public officials hope to have 16 cameras for each of the four building at Campos Plaza. Ms. Mendez has secured $400,000 for the cameras, which is roughly half of the total needed to cover the entire complex. The cameras would monitor both inside and outside the buildings and will be connected to a network than can be observed from a central location.

An official with the New York City Housing Authority sought to dispel any notions of a “Big Brother”-style system.
Read more…

St. Mark’s Bookshop Back From the Brink

Bookshop presserJamie Larson Owner of St. Mark’s Bookshop Terrence McCoy, along with Borough President Scott Stringer, Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha and others.

Cooper Union has eased the St. Mark’s Bookshop financial burden — somewhat.

A day after students from the school protested the possibility that they would have to pay tuition for the first time in more than a century (we’ve now added video of that demonstration to our initial post), politicians, community activists, school officials and the bookshop’s owners officially brought the two-month rent dispute to an end at a press conference this morning.

Under the agreement for the next year, Cooper Union will, as reported by The Times last night, cut the bookshop’s rent by $2,500 from its current rate, $20,000 a month.

Cooper Union will also forgive $7,500 of the shop’s debt and send a team of students to work with the owners on creating a new business plan. The agreement, which only last week seemed dead in the water, should save the store $40,000 over the next year, according to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who took credit for bringing an end to the standoff.
Read more…

A Groundbreaking Dance Number on East Fourth Street

For most Villagers, the FAB! Festival on East Fourth Street between Bowery and Second Avenue this past Saturday meant homemade kimchi from the 4th Street Food Co-op, choreographed dance performances (as you can see in our slideshow, the Rod Rodgers Dance Company‘s youth ensemble performed a number from “Chicago”), and shopping courtesy of MissWit’s Deborah Goldstein (her best effort: a T-shirt emblazoned with the text “The Unbearable Lightness of Bieber”). For a handful of local artists, the day was quite literally groundbreaking. Read more…

Opponents of 200 Ave. A Speak Out

As we noted earlier, the owners of a proposed business at 200 Avenue A — the former home of the oft-criticized Superdive — are speaking before the State Liquor Authority today. City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and members of Community Board 3 have both submitted formal letters in opposition to a liquor license for the business, which the applicant says will be an art gallery and restaurant. “The application also includes plans for a full service bar with 12 seats, live acoustic music and a DJ,” Ms. Mendez writes. “It appears that the gallery is incidental to a full service nightlife establishment.”
Stephen Rex Brown

Proposal Would Limit Building Heights

DSC_0260Tania Barnes Under the proposed legislation, this 26-story NYU dorm on East 12th Street would be too tall by half.

In the latest turf battle, it looks like the preservationists are winning.

City Council is set to vote today – and expected to approve — a measure that will cap building heights at 120 feet or roughly 12 stories on the eight blocks between Third and Fourth Avenues and 13th and Ninth Streets. That’s a pretty major shift: under current regulations, the area has practically no height restrictions. (For a case in point, look no further than the NYU dorm on East 12th Street, at 26 stories.)

Originally, the Department of City Planning considered the area, with its wide avenues, better able to accommodate tall buildings, and therefore chose to leave it out of the rezoning plans that affected the rest of the East Village in 2008. That rezoning capped buildings at 75 feet along the streets, 85 feet along avenues, and 120 feet along Houston Street.

But in September, city planning officials changed their tune, agreeing to support building caps for Third and Fourth Avenues. It’s not altogether clear what prompted the change of heart. A spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning would not elaborate on the motives for the reversal. But the support of Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and the continuous campaigns of groups like the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation have undoubtedly played a role.

For preservationists, the failure to include this region in the 2008 rezoning was always an omission and so they don’t necessarily view the pending legislation as a win. Rather, they see it as merely getting the area up to the zoning standards that apply elsewhere. In an interview with The Local, Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation called the new legislation “a compromise of a compromise.” The preservation group, he said, had hoped the building cap would be set at 85 feet, 35 feet less than what was ultimately agreed upon.

The new zoning laws will also theoretically raise the allowable height of residential buildings in the area by increasing what’s called their floor-to-area ratio. Still, Berman says the preservation group is happy with the change: “The advantage of that is if there’s going to be new development, it will be more residential. Right now, new development is all dorms and hotels.”

What do you think about the proposal to limit building heights in the East Village?