The Department of City Planning (DCP) made a presentation for the Land Use Committee of Community Board 4 in Manhattan Thursday evening. Through a hybrid organization, the committee worked with DCP for three years to compile a zoning framework that attempts to merge community concerns with new uses. The proposed district is bound by 43rd Street to the south and 55th Street to the north and sits between 11th and 12th avenues. The area, once filled with manufacturing and shipping, is now home to the studios, offices and showrooms for John Stewart, Ogilvy and Mather, Prada and Kenneth Cole.
While fashionable firms have moved west of 11th Avenue, the area still houses large facilities for ConEd, Verizon and FedEx. As many of these companies service the high density of Midtown, new regulations seek to maintain the commercial, manufacturing and industrial uses. East of 11th, however, new zoning would push the commercial border west and allow for residential, community facilities, and retail to move in. A bit further east a preservation area would be extended. Hotel uses will be eliminated throughout the zone and no new adult entertainment would be able to open for business. For cars driving south down 11th Avenue a clear divide might emerge: commercial operations to the right and residences to the left. The divide prompted several in the audience to refer to the west side of the corridor as "a wall."
For a large swath of the area, there are currently no height restrictions. New regulations would place residential height limits at 135 feet (145 feet on wider streets) and 135 on the commercial side. Within the residential zoning, an 80/20 inclusionary housing bonus allows developers to reach the maximum height, provided that 20% of the floor ratio be set aside for low to moderate-income housing. Very few members of the public who spoke said they were satisfied with the ratio.
One major concern was for residents who already live west of the avenue. Several requested that an anti-harassment/no demolition provision, already provided east of the avenue, be extended to the river. But a spokesperson from CPC said the zoning provisions would be out of the scope of this proposal. Bob Gereke, a local business owner and longtime resident, expressed concern about the effects that investor landlords may have on the character of the neighborhood and on his elderly neighbors in particular. “We have groups of young tenants who we don’t know and who don’t speak to us in the hallways.” Several recalled the bad old days of prostitution, drugs and car theft. “We remember the time when Hell’s Kitchen was a description of this area,” one speaker said to laughter and cheers. “We’ve been here, and now they want to push us out.”
For architect and longtime resident D. Lucian Iliesiu, there are the aesthetics to consider. Iliesiu argued that 12th Avenue is on its way to becoming a very desirable address. “It's logical to consider the blocks between as having a lesser importance and serving a lower status from a zoning point of view, than the blocks eastward of them,” he said. While much of 12th Avenue's river views are obstructed by the hulking cruise ship terminals, to the south the Intrepid and Pier 83 park offer spectacular views of the river and a Morris Lapidus designed hotel built in 1962, which now houses the Chinese General Consulate.