East Village residents and activists want to keep their neighborhood from becoming “Silicon Alley.”
Around 50 people gathered yesterday evening across from the site of a “boutique office building” that will replace Continental Bar, Papaya King (which has already closed), and other businesses on the corner of St. Marks Place and Third Avenue. Elected officials and preservationists called for Mayor Bill de Blasio to take action to rezone a small stretch of the East Village.
“We are here today because 300-foot condo towers on University Place and 12th Street do not belong there,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “Especially when, if the mayor had listened to us years ago and rezoned this area, that could have been a 10- or 12-story building with lots of units of affordable housing. We’re here to tell him we’re going to take back our neighborhood.”
Berman said the group hoped the mayor would support their rezoning proposal, which would set a height limit of 145 feet for buildings in the stretch of the East Village from Third to Fifth avenues, and from Union Square to Astor Place. The protected area would join the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District created in 2012 thanks in part to the GVSHP’s lobbying.
In addition to the office tower headed for St. Marks Place, Berman said, the area is home to three new planned tech industry-related buildings on Broadway between 11th and 13th Streets, a 300-foot tall condo tower nearing completion on University Place and 12th Street, and a 313-room hotel under construction on 11th street between Third and Fourth avenues, despite protests against the demolition of buildings on that block. Activists also objected to a “tech hub” set to replace the P.C. Richard & Son store on East 14th Street and Irving Place. Mayor de Blasio has championed the $250 million project, which will include a job-training facility and workspace for startups, as “the front-door for tech in New York City.”
“We’ve been trying to get the mayor for three years now to consider a rezoning proposal that would put reasonable height limits in place for new development, that would incentivise the creation and preservation of affordable housing,” Berman said. “Which would help the preserve the residential character of neighborhoods – not have residential neighborhoods turned into hotel-and-office-building zones, which is what’s happening to this area.”
“We will continue to see development of this type,” said John Blasco, who was reading a statement from outgoing City Council member Rosie Mendez, “out of character from the existing community as long as the zoning resolution remains as-is.”
State Assembly member Deborah Glick said preserving the residential, mixed-use character of the neighborhood was important to maintaining the vibrancy of the East Village and that she was disappointed in the proposed developments. “Seeing New York homogenized during the Bloomberg administration – we thought it would come to an end but it’s only getting worse,” she said. “I want to say to Bill de Blasio: Don’t turn yourself into Bloomberg 2.0. We deserve to keep our open skies, air and light – don’t suffocate us just for a quick buck from developer.”
Other speakers at the rally included state senator Brad Hoylman, Cooper Square Committee executive director Steve Herrick, Lower East Side Preservation Initiative president Richard Moses, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors president David Mulkins and East Village Community Coalition director Laura Sewell.