Residents Want Empty Houston Street Lot to Become a Park

By Andrea Swalec on April 7, 2012 2:44pm 

MTA-owned land under the Hollister billboard in SoHo could be the future site of a six-story building.
MTA-owned land under the Hollister billboard in SoHo could be the future site of a six-story building.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

SOHO — SoHo residents who say the bustling shopping district needs more open space are up in arms about a city plan that could raise a six-story retail building on a corner mostly occupied by a parking lot. 

The city's Economic Development Corporation is currently seeking proposals for the sale or rental of the southeast corner of Broadway and East Houston Street, where there are currently MTA parking spaces and a fruit stand, the agencies recently announced.

The zoning for the site on the south side of East Houston Street between Broadway and Crosby Street — which is also home to a massive Hollister billboard — would allow retail, commercial or light industrial uses, according to the EDC's request for proposals. 

But residents say they want a pedestrian plaza or public art project on the corner, not more chain stores or boutiques. 

"When you come out to SoHo, instead of getting pushed by hundreds of shoppers, it would be great to have some open space," said Sean Sweeney, the president of the neighborhood association the SoHo Alliance

"I want a place where both SoHo residents and tourists can come and relax." 

Resident Leigh Behnke said she hoped the development could be geared toward the needs of locals.

"The neighborhood is already way too commercial, and the big box stores and the landlords that benefit from them have not proven to be good neighbors," she said. 

Resident and advocate Pete Davies said the development of the corner could give a creative developer an opportunity to create park space, which neighbors pushed for in the 1980s when the MTA sought to build an electrical substation on the lot. 

"Ideally, this corner could be open space with some public benefit," he said. "That would be wonderful." 

The triangle-shaped lot and six other MTA-owned sites across the city will be rented or sold to raise money, MTA chairman Joseph Lhota said in a statement issued March 28. 

“Given the current financial picture facing the MTA, we have an imperative," he said. “We must do anything and everything we can to raise revenue and reduce costs in order to minimize the need to turn to fares, tolls and taxes." 

An MTA-owned lot on the south side of East Houston Street between Crosby Street and Broadway is currently the site of an MTA parking lot and a fruit stand.
An MTA-owned lot on the south side of East Houston Street between Crosby Street and Broadway is currently the site of an MTA parking lot and a fruit stand.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

The fruit stand located on the narrow western edge of the lot might be displaced by the development, according to the request for proposals. 

The EDC and MTA's plan would allow a developer to incorporate the fruit stand into its plans for the entire lot, exclude the western edge of the lot from its plans or use the entire site and compensate the fruit stand owner for design work undertaken in 2007 to renovate the stand, documents said. 

Brooklyn resident Carly Hirsh, 26, said she would hate to see the closure of the fruit stand she visits almost every day to buy soda and fresh fruit.

"The delis around here are definitely more expensive," she said.

The fruit stand owner declined to provide her name or comment on the future development but said the stand had been there for more than 40 years.

The development would also affect the gym located just south of the project site, 24 Hour Fitness at 136 Crosby St. If a six-story building were erected on East Houston Street, it would block the northern-facing windows of the gym, which takes up the Crosby Street building's fourth, fifth and sixth floors.

Gym manager Rowan Hardial said he had not been informed of plans for the development.  The gym's headquarters did not respond to an inquiry about the city's plan.

The city would require that the entrance to the Broadway-Lafayette subway station be unaffected by the development, documents said. 

Proposals for the development will be accepted through March 29, 2013.

A fruit stand on SoHo would potentially be displaced by a development plan of land owned by the MTA.
A fruit stand on SoHo would potentially be displaced by a development plan of land owned by the MTA.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

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