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Union Square tech hub might spur an area rezoning

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Preservationists fear an “oversized ‘Silicon Alley’”

Renderings via NYCEDC

Union Square’s old P.C. Richard & Son is slated to become the city’s next big epicenter for tech companies, but while the mayor has billed the project as the future “front-door for tech in New York City,” not everyone is quite so enthused about the idea.

According to DNAInfo, District 2 Councilwoman Rosie Mendez has said she won’t approve plans for the 258,000-square-foot Union Square Tech Hub unless the city agrees to rezone a few blocks nearby—a move preservationists hope will prevent the area from becoming an “oversized ‘Silicon Alley.’”

The Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation has been campaigning to limit building heights in the neighborhood, particularly around University Place and Broadway. Mendez has come out in support of that proposal—and says she’ll “use her vote on rezoning measures for the upcoming tech hub as leverage to make those protections a reality.”

The concern isn’t necessarily the tech hub itself, DNAInfo explains, but rather what the tech hub might bring with it. If the area around the project isn’t rezoned with new height restrictions, GVSHP activists worry there will be a proliferation of similarly large buildings.

Those fears aren’t unjustified: Quality Capital has plans for a 14-story commercial building across from the Strand at 827 Broadway, while IDM Capital is putting in a 15-story mixed-use building where the five-story Blatt Billiards used to be. On University Place, the former site of Bowlmor Lanes is set to house a 23-story condo building.

All three developments would rise between 200 and 300 feet—too tall for the neighborhood, GVSHP says. Their proposed height cap is between 95 and 145 feet, depending on the specific zoning district.

Mendez’s support is critical if the the tech hub is to go forward, since City Council usually defers to the local council member when voting on rezoning. And as it currently stands, they don’t have it. “I do not like this P.C. Richards site as being proposed right now and I would like to get some housing on there," Mendez told DNAinfo.

The mayor’s office, meanwhile, is reportedly not too happy about the preservationists’ stance. The purpose of the tech hub is “to provide a gateway for real New Yorkers—kids from our high schools, public housing and immigrant communities—to get training and a good paying job in tech,” a mayoral spokesperson told DNAInfo. “It is disappointing certain groups would use that project as a pawn to change unrelated zoning blocks away.”