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Can Soho's Car Wash-Replacing Condos 'Heal' Neighborhood?

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In two days, Superman: Man of Steel will arrive in theaters around the country to tell the tale of a being with extraordinary powers who finds himself the unintended savior of a new world on the brink of destruction?and yet completely despised by those whose lives he's trying to protect. And so it was that attendees at last night's Community Board 2 meeting were treated to a pre-screening of the new Warner Brother's blockbuster, albeit a version re-cast with some of New York City's real estate power players and a few of its most outspoken extras. Although decidedly cheaper to attend and a bit more tedious to watch (a three-hour run time, and?sorry, ladies?no Henry Cavill in sight), the public forum was fraught with high emotion as developers Robert Gladstone and Madison Equities, playing the part of Superman, introduced a plan to save their site at 120 Sixth Avenue/72 Sullivan Street (and SoHo) from the villain known as the "Extension of Sixth Avenue through Greenwich Village."

Gladstone's land use counsel Margery Perlmutter argued that the immediate neighborhood has long-suffered from the impact of the "new" portion of Sixth Avenue, which linked the Avenue from Carmine Street to the Holland Tunnel in 1925. In doing so, the Avenue bisected SoHo and left behind an uncomfortable rift between the high-growth, high-rise Hudson Square neighborhood and the low-rise South Village section of Greenwich Village. Previously a pie factory, car wash, and now an almost vacant lot, the site presents a unique opportunity to "heal" the neighborhood given its intersection at "the heart of the wound," according to Perlmutter. And so she presented the developer's solution: a Cary Tamarkin-designed complex that includes an 18-story tower with 27 residential units, four townhouses with rear-yards, and accompanying parking and retail space.

Perlmutter and the developers only required consent from the Community Board for variances on the intended retail use and a relatively small increase to 5.0 FAR from the as-of-right 3.44 FAR required for residential buildings in the site's M1-5b zoning district. Yet the feedback from community members suggested the request was more akin to building a Kryptonite mine in the middle of SoHo. Although Tamarkin (who was in attendance) was widely lauded for the quality of his designs, many commentators expressed concern that the building will appear "too industrial." There was nearly universal consensus that the building will be too tall and out of context with its immediate neighbors in SoHo, with major impacts to sunlight for residents and park users in Soho Square. Richie Gamba, the self-proclaimed "Honorary Mayor" of Sullivan Street, advised the developers that they were "ruinin' the neighborhood" and suggested a hospital or senior center in lieu of the residential project. Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, along with a few other savvy community members, noted that Perlmutter's cameo appearance as counsel to the developers was curious given her more widely known job as a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Tamarkin's design for the brick-heavy garden walls extending along the townhouse yards also concerned residents fearful of running a "gauntlet" along Sixth Avenue, but the issue might be a "matter of masonry" with a potential fix promised by the architect. Local art groups will control the public art display provided near the building's retail space.

With only a few outspoken voices in favor of the project as presented, however, CB2 will send comments to the Board of Standards and Appeals, the developer's next stop. The project is expected to undergo an extensive feasibility analysis in order to determine if it's deserving of an increased FAR. If not, it may be back to the drawing board, where the site could be re-incarnated as a hotel?perhaps as the 19-floor glass marvel envisioned by previous owner CIM Group.
?David Stein
· First Look at Soho's Car Wash-Replacing Condo Tower [Curbed]