Last week, the City Planning Commission approved the rezoning of Third Avenue in the East Village, a measure designed to prevent out-of-scale towers–looking at you, NYU dorms–from overtaking the four-block stretch and overwhelming the area’s historic mid-rise scale. It’s the second time in as many years that part of the Lower East Side (14th Street on down, as it used to be known) has been rezoned.
Yet, as often happens with these sorts of complicated land-use actions, somebody feels left out. In this case, it is the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, but the group has about as powerful an ally as one could hope for: Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver.
BAN, as the group is known–can you get more NIMBY than that!–want to cap tall buildings on the Bowery’s eastern flank. Unlike the west side of the street, where none can rise above 120 feet, on the eastern sidewalk, developers can build about as high as they want. Hence outsized structures like the Bowery Hotel, New Museum, the new Cooper Union Building, and 52 East 4th Street (at right).
In a recent letter to Commission Chair Amanda Burden, Silver writes:
I believe that the east side of the Bowery deserves the same type of zoning to ensure that new buildings are of a size and scale that maintain the Bowery as the unique New York City thoroughfare that it is today.[…]
The recent rezoning of the East Village/Lower East Side leaves out the east side of the Bowery, making it vulnerable to out-of-scale buildings that would diminish the consistency of the streetscape and the Bowery’s historic character.
I strongly support the East Bowery Preservation Plan and I urge City Planning to study and rezone the east side of the Bowery to preserve and protect this historic and significant neighborhood in my district.
Will having one of the biggest machers in the city on its side help BAN protect the Bowery? Maybe not. The Department of City Planning prefers the current arrangement, as it encourages development in a concentrated area that has already seen a number of projects go up, creating a new normal. Rachaele Raynoff, a department spokeswoman, explained it this way in an email:
The Department of City Planning appreciates the dynamic nature of the historic Bowery, and its enduring strength as a vital, economically thriving corridor, having seen a range of new development activity and investment. The wide, centrally-located street continues to support a mix of commercial, residential, community and cultural uses, and has excellent access to mass transit. As the Department considers citywide policies on rezoning, we work hard to balance the varying needs of a broad and ever-expanding city and continually seek to strike a balance among uses, constituencies and planning strategies.
In other words, were the city to downzone everything, there would be nowhere left to build.