The cantilevering puzzle-like COOKFOX building planned for 39-41 West 23 Street won the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission last October, but more approvals are still needed before work can begin on the 22-story, 38-unit building, so the project went before community board 5 this week. Developer Anbau Enterprises needs special zoning permits to allow residential use at the site, and to allow a 50 space parking garage in the historic district. The board's Land Use, Housing, and Zoning Committee ultimately voted to approve the resolutions, but only after a lengthy debate.
"The package here is not compelling from a public interest perspective," said acting land-use, housing and zoning chair, Eric Stern. "It does not meet sort of the 'smell test,'" he said. Shared concerns were that the influx of new residents that will put pressure on existing schools and add an unnecessary load of cars to the area around Madison Square Park. "We're running the risk of spot zoning," said board member Jinny St. Goar. When a property is "spot zoned," it's considered to be at odds with the surrounding area's zoning or master plan. Goar added, "I think the notion of having more parking spaces in this building than there are units is really, it's not something I can support at all," referencing the various public transportation sites nearby. But that didn't sway a fellow board member who said, "if you're buying a million dollar condo you're probably showing up with a car, maybe more than one car."
A broader debate arose over the long term political impact of allowing these zoning waivers. "We'd really be setting a precedent," said Stern, suggesting future applicants would assume entitlement to such waivers in the historic district. A different member argued he'd heard the precedent line enough times to see it discredited. "I think every situation is different," he said. "It doesn't work that way."
Plans for the site have been in the works for a long time. The first proposal surface back in 2005, gracing us with Carlos Zapata's Pope Hat design, but after years of inaction, Horizon Global sold the site to Anbau Enterprises in 2010 for $18.5 million. Anbau tried to move forward with the Pope Hat, but that design became a holy memory after a rejection by the LPC. Anbau then tapped COOKFOX, whose design was approved by Landmarks after getting sent back just once.
A little bit about that design...
· All 39-41 West 23rd Street coverage [Curbed]