The Elad Group is anxious to build a residential building on a vacant West 43rd Street lot with 15- and 16-story towers over Amtrak lines, but the developer needs special permits to build over the tracks and to have some regulations waived. With only generic designs as placeholders, Elad's plans were met with resistance from Community Board 4 during a meeting this Wednesday. The board said that Elad is rushing the permitting process and that the request to breach height limits is an order too tall.
The property at 501-511 West 43rd Street is zoned with a height limit of 135 feet. Elad wants to crank it up to 164 feet. There are much taller buildings existing (and coming) nearby, such as the 31-story Gotham West across 44th Street. But smaller building heights are still a fixture in the Clinton neighborhood. "These are heavy negotiations because we have Hudson Yards going to the sky in the south, we have the Extell stuff to the north in the Riverside South project going to the sky," said board member Joe Restuccia. He then referred to the negotiations over Gotham West in 2009 when efforts to establish height limits in the area ultimately became part of the 2011 West Clinton Rezoning plan. "We're talking two years of public debate."
As this came up in the meeting, so did time constraints. The board has 60 days to consider the permits but City Planning is due to consider certification by September 29. Then the full community board (not just this committee) meets only a few days later on October 1 to discuss it. That hampers time to negotiate designs that don't yet exist. "Time is not working," one board member said. This happened because Elad filed with City Planning in June, but the board apparently didn't get notice until late August. This all came up in a dissident back and forth between Elad's executive VP Yoel Shargian and the board, but at least one board member responded as though he'd never been through a community approval process before.
Complicating the height issue, Elad wants to fill some of the space with internal parking while offering your standard 20 percent of affordable housing. The parking would be stacked on the ground floor, which Elad representatives said can't be used for residential space. That became a point of technical disagreement from the board. The problem with parking, board members said, is that it takes up space that could be used for housing, including affordable housing, which in turn gives reason to build higher. "Some of it fills the middle so less of it fills the top," said board member David Solnick. Plus, he said, "in our community board that's been a 'thing' about not letting applicants putting in parking."
One of the people with Elad Group pointed out that there won't be poor doors and that the project was filed through the inclusionary housing program, which would allow bonus floor area. But Restuccia shot back. "We are not interested in waving the flag of inclusionary zoning as the best thing in the world," he said. "If we lose a couple units, and we maintain the integrity of the zoning district, that is more important." Later, when asked what he meant when he told Elad not to "wave that flag anywhere," he said, "They're trying to say 'if you don't give us this permit, we'll build less affordable housing.'"
The site almost became a housing void when in 2006 developer Sam Chang bought the property to put up a hotel, then sold the site to Magna Hospitality Group in 2008. The site was never developed before its special Amtrak permit expired in 2010.
What exactly the Elad building will look like is not yet for sure, but we do know it will look like two buildings, one at 43rd Street and one at 44th, with the shared first floor.
· West Side Residential Site on the Market [Commercial Observer]