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03.24.2011
A Bit of Bowery on 25th Street
Homeless shelter to slip unnoticed into Chelsea?
Tom Stoelker / The Architect's Newspaper

The renovation of a newly installed homeless shelter in Chelsea will be completed in two months without the usual public scrutiny. Or at least that’s what Bowery Residence Committee (BRC) was hoping when they dodged a ULURP review that would have intensified probing from several government departments and the community board. BRC sprung from Bowery flophouse activism in the 1970s to a $48 million nonprofit. The new headquarters building on West 25th Street remains mired in court battles and red tape that could keep the 328- bed homeless shelter from opening just a block from Madison Square Park.

 
Bowery Residence Committee's new headquarters on West 25th Street.
 

The 12-story vertical campus holds 104,000 square feet located within an early 20th-century high rise. The interior restoration designed by TEK Architects includes a 32-bed detox center, a 96-bed reception center, and a 200-bed shelter. An out patient facility, case management offices, a cafeteria, and a rooftop garden will also be included, and administrative offices will take the top floor.

At press time various legal issues were pending as the Chelsea Flatiron Coalition, a group of area property and business owners, belatedly scrambled to shrink the size of the project or keep it out of the area altogether. BRC is also arguing with its landlord over promised funds for the renovation totaling more than $8 million. State Supreme Court Judge Ruth Madden must decide whether to issue a stop work order based on the developer’s failure to complete several review processes while renovations forged ahead. BRC still has not obtained a CEQR, SEQRA, and a Fair Share Review. Maddens must also decide whether there should be a ULURP hearing, which could open up a whole new can of worms for BRC, bringing with it an intense level of community participation. Madden’s decision is imminent.

Other contentious issues revolve around zoning and sit before the Bureau of Standards and Appeals (BSA). BRC has the support of the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Buildings. “This is one of the most extraordinary examples of reaching and contorting to reach a result,” said Daniel Connolly who represents the Chelsea Flatiron Coalition, referring to BRC’s shoehorning the project language to fit the M1-6 zone, which allows for hotels but not shelters. He claims that the buildings department has misleadingly branded the building as Use Group 5, for transient hotels. The coalition says it should be considered a Use Group 3 for homeless shelters or possibly Use Group 4 for adult care services and psychiatric facilities. “The real issue here is, can a homeless shelter be a hotel?” he said. The BSA indicated they would likely issue their decision in early April.

Meanwhile, workers continue to file in and out of 127 West 25th, despite a letter from Council Speaker Christine Quinn asking for a stop to the construction. BRC representative Randy Mastro said proceeding with construction in spite of opposition was business as usual for the group. “It’s in the normal course, and BRC is doing what it’s normally doing,” he said. “They already operate in one of the most exceptional neighborhoods; look what they’ve done on the Bowery and that neighborhood has flourished. Chelsea should be very happy.”

Tom Stoelker