Controversial Meatpacking District Tower Approved by City Board
Tom Acitelli Nov. 24, 2009, 7:53 p.m.
The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals approved on Tuesday zoning variances that would allow a 175-foot tower to be built at 437 West 13th Street in the Meatpacking District.
The 10-story, mixed-use tower, rebranded 860 Washington Street, will be allowed to be about 24 percent taller than the neighborhood’s current zoning allows, after developer Romanoff Equities in February cited the High Line, which runs through the property, as a hardship that limited development. It also cited lead contamination and poor soil on the property, currently Art Deco meat market buildings.
“The board was convinced by the applicant’s claim of uniqueness on the property,” said Jeff Mulligan, executive director of the BSA. “The High Line’s location on the zoning lot restricts the development … That, in combination with the contaminated soil, warranted a variance.”
The developer initially proposed a 215-foot tower, 55 percent higher than current zoning, in December 2008, according to Mr. Mulligan, but scaled back efforts after opposition from preservationists. In January, Community Board 2 gave an advisory against the 215-foot proposal, after the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation fought vigorously against it.
“The board questioned the original proposal and questioned the need for a building of that size,” said Mr. Mulligan.
However, the board approved the overall project in a 32-2 vote and doubled in size the ground retail space. The developer had requested a tripling in ground retail space, while GVSHP supported no increase.
“Our intention from the start was to design a building which complemented the High Line,” said Daryll Romanoff, principal at Romanoff Equities. “We are delighted that the BSA approved all five of our variances, which will allow for 23 percent more FAR [density] than the current zoning and more than double the amount of retail space on the ground floors.”
The building will total 116,000 square feet, with the retail tenants on the bottom two floors, with spaces from 11,500 to 13,200 square feet and ceiling heights of 17 to 25 feet. The top eight floors will be office space, with approximately 11,000 square feet per floor.
“With this important approval from the BSA today, we can now begin the process of seeking an anchor tenant which we are confident we will get, given how attractive this building is as well as the surrounding neighborhood,” Mr. Romanoff said.
The Meatpacking District already includes fashion store Diane Von Furstenberg Studios, Barnes & Noble and television networks.
“As the neighbors to the north of 860 Washington Street, we are delighted that the City of New York has granted the necessary variances for this project to move ahead,” said Diane Von Furstenberg in a statement. “As an old family of the Meat Packing District, the Romanoffs have committed to preserve the neighborhood as a destination for high-end fashion and commerce.”
The building was designed by architects James Carpenter and Randy Gerner and will be LEED-certified, with recycled building materials including “terra cotta, zinc, and perforated metals in a range of subtle grays, along with concrete and glass,” in order to fit with the “industrial origins” of the neighborhood.
“It blends in perfectly with the High Line and its surroundings,” said Mr. Romanoff, noting that the building is shorter than the Standard Hotel in the south, and High Line Building in the northwest.
But preservationists aren’t convinced.
“If every developer in New York City said they faced some challenge in development, and were given variances, we would have no zoning,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the GVSHP.
He said that citing the High Line as a hardship was a “ridiculous notion,” suggesting that proximity to the landmark was an asset. The addition of another large retailer in the building’s ground floor could also lead to more crowding in the area, he added.
“We’re really worried about the effect it’ll have on the neighborhood,” Mr. Berman said.
He said that the northern wall of the building is also proposed to be windowless, which means it could house a billboard that would be visible from the nearby meatpacking historic district, officially known as the Gansevoort Market Historic District.
On Sept. 9, 2003, the Landmarks Preservation Commission created the historic district. However, it voted to exclude 437-447 13th Street from the final boundaries, according to Elisabeth de Bourbon, spokeswoman for the LPC. Since it was not included in the district, the building was open to further development outside of the LPC’s approval.
But now, preservationists have only one option left.
“The only recourse left to the public is filing a legal challenge. The burden of getting the zoning laws evenly and fairly enforced falls upon the public,” Mr. Berman said. The GVSHP, for its part, generally does not litigate, and such a case would cost “five figures,” he said.