NEWS AND ISSUES
Testimony by New York State Senator Duane Before the New York City Planning Commission on the Draft Scope of Analysis for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement Regarding the Rezoning Of Hudson Square
October 27, 2011
My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York State's 29th Senate District, in which Hudson Square is located. Thank you for the opportunity to present my comments on the Draft Scope of Work for the Hudson Square Rezoning proposal before the New York City Planning Commission (CPC) today.
The zoning map and zoning text amendments requested by The Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Trinity Church (Trinity) would fundamentally alter the fabric of Hudson Square. The current M1-6 zoning for the area in question, roughly bounded by West Houston and Vandam Streets to the north, Avenue of the Americas to the east, Canal Street and Spring Street to the south and Hudson Street and Greenwich Street to the west, allows for manufacturing, business and hotel uses but not residential, educational or cultural uses. I applaud the effort to create a vibrant, mixed-use community in this sparely populated area which is dominated by large commercial spaces. However, I have concerns about the neighborhood's ability to sustain the thousands of new residents that would occupy new housing units permitted by the rezoning and I believe there are aspects of the draft scope of work for environmental review which warrant additional attention.
The project's transportation impacts must be meticulously and comprehensively studied. As we have seen in other places in our city, even small changes to a neighborhood can have huge impacts on both traffic and public transportation. Hudson Square is already overwhelmed by Holland Tunnel traffic. Moreover, subway riders heading in and out of the southern part of the district already overburden the limited IND and IRT subway access points north of Canal Street. It should also be noted that bringing residents as well as the shoppers, diners and other visitors that a mixed-use community would attract to an area where high volume vehicular traffic exists at nearly all times of the day may place pedestrians at risk. Thus, I cannot stress enough the importance of fully analyzing the traffic, public transportation and parking impacts this development would have on the immediate area, as well as potential ripple-effects on surrounding neighborhoods.
Changing the area's composition from exclusively commercial to partially residential would also create more demand for local amenities. Specifically, individuals and families will require open space for both active and passive recreation. Lower Manhattan has a dearth of open, publicly accessible space. The scoping documents must not only examine the potential demand for open space, but also opportunities for creating additional publicly accessible open space both in and around the potentially rezoned area.
I am also concerned that adding new families to the area may negatively impact our already overcrowded school system. Even without this rezoning, the New York City Department of Education's Five-Year Capital Plan for Fiscal Years 2010-2014 identifies the need for an additional 1,301 seats to address the growth and overcrowding of existing school facilities in this subdistrict. Trinity's proposal includes space for the New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) to potentially create approximately 400 new elementary school seats. Based on the SCA's conservative projected public school ratio of students generated per new housing unit, the school as proposed would accommodate solely the area's new pre-kindergarten through fifth grade residents but would not alleviate the current community-wide overcrowding issues or the lack of seats for older students. Further, this space is contingent on the SCA being both willing and able to accept and build out a school in the space – a significant uncertainty. I recognize that Trinity, in accordance with the CEQR Technical Manual, intends to perform a detailed analysis of the effects of its proposed actions' on demand for schools, both with and without the prospective new public school?s development. The scoping should also examine increasing the capacity of the prospective school to accommodate the rezoning area's new middle school students and/or to serve the wider community's growing school-age population.
As Manhattan Community Board 2 (CB2) noted in its testimony on this matter, the Board has had to address a number of hotel-related issues. Trinity's proposal would allow transient hotels with more than 100 rooms only by special permit from CPC until the project's residential development goal has been met, at which point such hotel uses would be as-of-right. With the community's concerns in mind, the scoping should consider the effect of lifting the proposed expiration of the special permit requirement for hotels over 100 units so that it may remain in perpetuity. Special permitting gives the community more of a voice as to the types of construction and conversion that take place in their neighborhood. It should go without saying that a non-contextual, outsized development like the Trump SoHo Hotel must never again be allowed to encroach on our community, nor should Trump SoHo itself be allowed to convert to residential use.
I have further concerns about the ability of our water and sewer infrastructure and solid waste and sanitation services to accommodate the new residents this rezoning would attract. I agree with CB2 that our infrastructure capacities must be studied for the highest potential number of residents the proposed action might bring to the area.
I likewise agree with CB2 that the environmental review should consider the effects of increasing the proposed rezoning's size limit for residential conversions to somewhere between the proposed 50,000 square feet and 70,000 square feet of floor area. There appear to be only four additional non-residential buildings in the rezoning area that would qualify for conversion if the size limit were so lifted, but the environmental impacts of such an increase must be thoroughly studied, and, as CB2 noted, the size limit for demolitions should remain unchanged.
Finally, I share preservationists' concerns about how this proposal may impact the unprotected portions of the proposed South Village Historic District, which borders the area under consideration. I, along with other elected officials and community members, have urged the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to act expeditiously to ensure that the remainder of the historic South Village is protected under New York City's Landmarks Law. The proposed rezoning's generous height limits may compound pressures for residential and commercial displacement as well as non-contextual, over-sized developments in this proposed historic district.
Thank you for allowing me to testify today and for your consideration of my recommendations.