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We Don’t Have to Be Helpless Before the Destructive Power of Developers

Lynn Ellsworth, Tribeca Trust 

May 7, 2015 

Must Big Real Estate always win and be free to tear things down in Tribeca?  It seems that way.  An event we have long worried about has taken place: the six fine, historic district-worthy buildings that wrap the east side of West Broadway between Murray and Warren Streets have just traded hands for a huge sum according to Crain’s New York.  The new owner says he intends to demolish the buildings and build a gigantic luxury condo building, most likely of glass.  It will be huge.

Why is this bad? 

1.  The integrity, human-scale, and public value of the neighboring Tribeca South Historic District will be deeply and forever damaged.

2.  All the remaining unprotected surrounding blocks will never gain protection because the Landmarks Preservation Commission will use its favorite excuse:  “the new building damages the integrity of the whole area.”

3.  We will lose affordable housing, affordable commercial lofts, and two dozen small businesses that have been loved by Tribecans for years (among them, the Raccoon Lodge, Mariachis, Mangez Avec Moi, Palermo’s, Saleya, and many others who occupy the higher floors of those buildings.)  

4.  The very last thing Tribeca needs is more luxury housing.  If those buildings are to be “developed” it can be done in a way that keeps the buildings intact and grants some protections for the tenants.

So can it be stopped? 

Maybe. According to a leading zoning scholar of the Supreme Court, developers “do not have the constitutional right to the speculative value of their property.”   That means that the Landmarks Preservation Commission could act if it wanted to.  It is a political decision.  We’ve been begging the LPC to act on this part of Tribeca for a while now.

What should we do?  At this point, we have to talk to the Mayor.  Bill De Blasio is the only person with the power to direct the Landmarks Preservation Commission to “calendar” the proposed extensions of Tribeca South Historic District. He must take leadership on the issue. “Calendaring” means putting the area in line for a public hearing. He is an elected official.  It’s still a democracy.  In theory, he is accountable to citizens (unless we allow ourselves to be mere anonymous sources of tax revenue for the city.)  We can try. We must try.

Here are three things you can do right now:

1.  Sign our petition here and get your friends and neighbors to sign it.

2. Write our Mayor.  I voted for him (and right now, I am wondering why I did that).   Say the following:  “Landmarks must calendar the proposed extensions for Tribeca East Historic District now. The cause has merit, but it needs mayoral leadership.”  The web form to contact him is here.  Get your friends and neighbors to do it to.

3.  Donate to our fund to hire zoning specialists to study what we can do with zoning to better protect Tribeca here.

Write us if you’d be willing to come to a rally in front of that building to call attention to the plight of the many buildings in Tribeca that are similarly threatened.