Council OKs Union Square Tech Hub Without Neighborhood Protections

Council OKs Union Square Tech Hub Without Neighborhood Protections

Published: 
October 2018

On August 8, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the Union Square Tech Hub, a 21-story building on the former site of a P.C. Richard appliance store at 124 East 14th Street. The proposal also rezones the area south of 14th Street between University Place and Third Avenue to allow increased commercial development down to Astor Place, and does not include protections against overdevelopment and for tenants in the neighborhood. 

Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who represents the area, cast the key vote in favor, as the Council typically defers to local members on whether to approve development in their district. In voting yes, Rivera reneged on promises she repeatedly made that she would not support the rezoning unless it included significant protections for the neighborhood. 

The site of the Tech Hub, proposed in 2015, is on land owned by the city. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the aim is to “create a central convening point for technology, training, and networking” and that it “will generate 600 good-paying jobs.” The developers, RAL Companies & Affiliates, have donated over $10,000 to the mayor’s Campaign for One New York. 

The proposal prompted protest from neighborhood residents who believed it would enable overdevelopment and cause more displacement of tenants in the rezoned area. In 2017, five rent-stabilized buildings at 112-120 East 11th Street between Third and Fourth avenues were demolished for a 13-story, 300-plus room Moxy Hotel. The de Blasio administration rejected designating landmark status for the buildings. The site’s owner, the Lightstone Group, has also donated to the mayor’s campaign, according to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP). Its founder and CEO, David Lichtstein, was appointed to the city Economic Development Corporation. 

At 110 University Place, formerly the home of the Bowlmor bowling alley, a 285-foot tower is near completion. A 232-foot commercial/residential building is slated for 809 Broadway between East 11th and 12th Streets, and more high-rise office and office/ residential towers are either being built or in the planning stages. 

Then-Councilmember Rosie Mendez, the GVSHP, and other community groups, proposed conditions for the Tech Hub that would protect and expand much needed affordable housing, landmark 193 sites in the area, and implement zoning restrictions to prevent inappropriate development. Community Board 3 voted to support that proposal. 

Mendez said that training and job creation “should not be at the expense of affordable housing” and that many of the present buildings have “great commercial, historical, and architectural significance.” 

“I would use my leverage as Councilwoman to condition my support for the Tech Hub upon the city approving zoning protections for the adjacent residential area,” Rivera said while running to succeed Mendez, her mentor, in 2017. “While I understand that the Tech Hub will bring valuable training and job opportunities to the district, without the needed zoning protections for the neighborhood, it would lead to acceleration in out-of-scale development.” 

On July 10, she told a Council zoning subcommittee hearing that she would support the rezoning only if it included neighborhood protections. A week prior to the Aug. 8 vote, she told GVSHP executive director Andrew Berman that she would only vote yes if it included the protections which the community proposed, again saying that without them, the rezoning, “will lead to acceleration in out-of-scale development for the surrounding residential neighborhood.” 

The rezoning gave developers 100 percent of the commercial upzoning that they sought, with no height limits on construction, no incentives or requirements for creating new truly affordable housing or preserving affordable housing, and no prohibition on new large-scale hotels or office buildings. Only seven of the 193 sites GVSHP proposed for landmark designation are being considered by the city. 

Berman told AMNewYork that it included only a “fraction of a fraction” of the protections his organization had demanded. “The approval of the tech hub will accelerate the transformation of the adjacent Greenwich Village and East Village neighborhoods into an extension of ‘Midtown South’ and ‘Silicon Alley,’ which many developers and real-estate interests have already begun to call them,” he said in a statement. 

Rivera did get a commitment from the de Blasio administration that it would consider implementing a requirement for special permits for new hotels in the rezoned area. This process, however, gives developers much lead time to bypass that requirement. And residential or office towers won’t need a special permit. 

She said in an email to constituents that the city was “commencing the process of establishing a protective zoning measure in neighborhoods south of 14th Street” and that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development would begin a campaign to educate rent-stabilized tenants about harassment connected with construction. 

Meanwhile, GVSHP is working to landmark sites in the area as a means of preservation. 

Mayor de Blasio and the Real Estate Board of New