By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Members of Midtown's Community Board 5 endorsed a plan to re-zone the blocks surrounding FIT Wednesday night, despite concerns the new rules would eat up existing commercial and office space in the zone.
The Department of City Planning is hoping to spur development on the blocks south of Penn Station, which was once known as Manhattan's "Fur District." Today, the former manufacturing hub is home to a few remaining fur wholesalers, a smattering of small warehouses, and numerous parking lots, with little street life after hours.
The new "M1-6D" zoning designation, which would span West 28th, 29th and 30th streets between Seventh and Eighth avenues, would loosen regulations for new residential units to create what they hope will become "a more robust mixed-use, '24/7' community," with more restaurants, services and retail, planners said.
The move in being spearheaded by Edison Properties, which wants to build a new 400-unit development between West 28th and West 29th on an existing parking lot. Twenty percent of the space would be reserved for affordable housing.
But members of Community Board 5's Land Use and Zoning committee, which met to consider the plan Wednesday night, had serious reservations about the proposal, which was first presented to members at their meeting last month.
Many of the fears centered on the fact that, under the new rules, developers would be allowed to turn any building smaller than 50,000 square feet into residential space. Buildings larger than 50,000 square feet would be required to maintain as much commercial and office space as they have today, even if they decide to rebuild.
But board members questioned whether the threshold was too high and wondered how much Class B and Class C office space, which the board has long worked to preserve, would remain.
"I would hate to see this office space disappear," Board member Giuseppe Scalia said.
Planners estimate the re-zoning could displace as many as 26 firms and 225 employees — though board members estimated the number would be much higher.
Board member Joe Ferrara predicted small commercial buildings would be destroyed completely by an onslaught of residential use.
Others questioned whether they should be opening the doors to so many new residential units when schools in the neighborhood are already painfully overcrowded. The new zoning would produce slightly less residential space than the threshold that would require investment in neighborhood schools.
James Sherman, who’s lived in the district for the past 28 years, said he was deeply concerned about the potential impact on the area, and urged the board to vote against the plan.
He said the block has already been inundated by traffic, loading trucks, garbage and commotion, and doesn't need to encourage development.
"There’s noise all night long," he complained.
But after more than three hours of discussion, members voted unanimously to endorse the plan, arguing that the potential benefits were worth the risk.
"This will create the development I think this area should (have)," said board member Edward Klimerman, who said the blocks would provide a test for what might work in surrounding areas, including the Fashion District.
The proposal will now go before the full board next Thursday, June 9 at its monthly meeting at St. Xavier High School at 30 W. 16th St.