Developers Pledge to Lower Sunset Park Tower
Developers pledge to slash 42nd St. tower – Original 12-story structure will now only go up 6 floors, they say
By Lesley Grimm
Locals have stopped a proposed high-rise, but want new rules to thwart such projects in the future. In a dramatic turn of events, controversial plans for a high-rise tower in Sunset Park have been cut in half—literally. Bowing to intense community and political pressure, developers have promised to slash the height of the proposed building from 12 stories to no more than six stories.
As well as scrapping the original design, the group developing 420 42nd Street has also pledged to be “good neighbors” and has promised to consult the community on any future projects. This sudden u-turn by developers is the news many local activists had hoped for—but few really expected. “I was shocked when I found out.” said Ivette Cabrera, 43rd Street resident and founding member of the Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors. “I really was speechless,” Cabrera said.
Critics claimed the planned 12-story building was “out of context” with the surrounding two- and three-story row houses, and would plunge those neighboring homes into darkness. There were also fears the new tower would block the neighborhood’s famous harbor sunsets as well as panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline. But to the relief of many, those concerns were quashed during a hastily convened press conference on Saturday, March 10.
In front of Saturday’s gathering of community leaders, activists and press, members of 420 42nd Street, L.L.C. re-signed a large ceremonial “commitment memo.” The statement promises, most significantly, to cap the development at 60 feet. The memo also pledges to create on-premise parking and first-floor community amenities such as a day care center and health care facility. Developers also agree to consult with Gonzalez and the community on any future plans in the area. Further hinting at the possibility of additional developments, the memo commits 420 42nd Street, L.L.C. to working with Gonzalez to examine the issue of affordable housing.
William Chiu, spokesman for the group and chairman of the American Fujian Association of Commerce and Industry, said developers radically reduced the height of the building in order to Foster good will in the neighborhood. “After meeting with Councilmember Gonzalez, we decided to cut the building’s height by more than half to please our community, so that we could have a long-term relationship,” Chiu said. “We want to build more in Sunset Park and help resolve the problem of affordable housing,” he added.
CB 7 Chairman Randy Peers, a stern critic of the original 12-story complex, expressed his relief. “I am pleased to see that the developers listened to the community message and brought down the size of the building, proving that responsible development can also be profitable,” Chairman Peers said.
Saturday’s announcement capped off an event-filled week. Gonzalez convened Monday’s meeting of 20 stakeholders to outline to developers the “full breadth” of community opposition. On Tuesday, a second meeting was held, at which time Gonzalez secured a commitment to decrease the height of the building. By the end of the week, amended plans for a 31-unit structure were submitted to the New York City Department of Buildings.
The Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors (SPAN) was somewhat caught off guard by the rapid changes. SPAN is a new, but well-organized and influential, coalition of residents and homeowners. The group had planned a demonstration rally against the project on Sunday, but after news broke of the compromise, the gathering was transformed into a victory celebration. “I wasn’t expecting this,” said SPAN founding member Johnny Trelles, who lives across the street from the proposed development. “I’m very happy,” he said.
Activists, community leaders and politicians are eager to point out that their work is far from over, and have vowed to continue pressuring city planners to rezone Sunset Park. “This was a real wakeup call,” said Aaron Brashear, an outspoken critic of “over-development.” Brashear also chairs CB 7’s new buildings sub-committee. In 2005, zoning rules were changed in neighboring communities like South Slope and Bay Ridge to block tall buildings from sprouting up on residential streets.
Many in Sunset Park want that same protection, and are urging City Hall to rethink Sunset Park’s current “R6” designation. As a way of ratcheting up the pressure on city planners, SPAN is currently soliciting petition signatures. The group is focusing on the blocks between 25th and 65th Streets, between 3rd and 8th Avenues. SPAN members say they have already gathered more than one thousand signatures, towards their goal of five thousand signatures. Those petitions are expected to be presented to Community Board 7 in April.
Peers has pledged to use his community board’s “formal and informal influences” to push for rezoning. “Now the hard work begins,” Peers said on Saturday. Gonzalez has also pledged support for the grass roots rezoning movement. “Tell me what you need and I’ll get it done,” Gonzalez said.