Recap of what happened (see pictures further down)
Last year a developer sought to put a glass building on the two tiny triangle lots at 100 Franklin, right in Tribeca East Historic District. The neighborhood really came out in force against it. There was a petition with 1500 signatures and massive turnouts at the various public hearings. Mel Bochner, one of the more notable artists of Tribeca, gave especially eloquent and fiery denunciations that really ought to have been captured for Youtube. It is my eternal regret not to have done so. The city needs people like Mel speaking their minds more often. Tribeca Trust was careful to say that it did not oppose the idea of putting buildings on those parking lots. A lot of people said that too. What really matters is what kind of building and how big.
LPC made the developer modify the design and he came back a few weeks later to the LPC with what Tribeca Trust and the residents of White Street saw as only a marginal improvement: a modernist brick skin with a visually irritating random fenestration pattern and bizarrely scaled glass windows – a bit like a prison with designer shops on the ground floor. And the loggia makes no design sense at all.
The community was not allowed to weigh in on this iteration of the design. But the LPC gave it a pass, noting – without irony – that they thought the design handled well the “tyranny of the context.” Given the implications of that phrase for the purpose of the LPC, I was amazed that The New York Times did not headline it with the caption “fox guards the henhouse at LPC”. Why would the cultural asset that is Tribeca East Historic District be considered a “tyranny,” especially by someone regulating design within it?
The problems with the new design are still many:
- The height and massing are excessive for the tiny site (and should instead follow Tribeca’s amazing 150 year history of small, highly contextual buildings on similar odd lots -see photos below).
- The window patterns and void ratios are all wrong and don’t “fit” the block.
- The trees are pure hogwash, or “green washing” as it is called. They will die on the subway grates there and block pedestrian movement
- The design will block off views, air, and light to a historically exposed 19th-century rear yard, the only one so visible Tribeca, as well as kill off a mature, fully canopied tree that all have enjoyed for years
- There is a lot more to say, notably about the entrances, void ratios, and the loggia, but why tell the developer, we’re telling the BSA!
And who is the BSA? It is the Bureau of Standards and Appeals, a regulatory body who has the job of giving developers a green light when the thing the developer wants happens to violate the zoning code. The BSA manages a kind of corporate welfare, in the sense that its rules guarantee developers a completely undefined “reasonable rate of return.” Don’t you wish your business had the government guaranteeing you a “reasonable” (meaning self-defined) rate of return? I do. I’d ask for a 90% rate of return, kind of like the developers claim for 56 Leonard Street.
If you wish to protest all this at BSA, they make it very difficult. You have to go to their website, download a one-page form, fill it out, and then get it notarized (at a bank?), then mail it to the BSA (address is on the form).
In this case the deadline for doing so is February 6, a few days from now. If you do it, you need to cite one of the official reasons for rejecting a variance: it’s against the public welfare; it alters the character of the neighborhood in a negative way; the claim of economic hardship of the developer is bogus; or the problems of the developer at the specific site are self-induced (meaning lack of business acumen, but not related to stupidity in actually overpaying for a site).
You can go to the BSA’s website and try to attend a hearing (but who can, if you work?) Here is the BSA link to the form, for anyone motivated to act:
The address to put on the form is 98-100 Franklin, owned by DDG LLC.
And here are examples from all over Tribeca of a long tradition of highly contextual small buildings places on small and irregular lots. Why didn’t the developer of 100 Franklin just downsize in the first place?
The tree and rear yard about to be destroyed.