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Neighbors Oppose Planned Luxury Condos At Koppers Chocolate Building

By Danielle Tcholakian | July 23, 2015 7:45pm | Updated on July 24, 2015 5:40pm
 Neighbors don't want the Koppers building to get any taller, but the community board said they'll allow it if it means permanently affordable condos.
Neighbors don't want the Koppers building to get any taller, but the community board said they'll allow it if it means permanently affordable condos.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

WEST VILLAGE — Locals are already objecting to a proposal to increase the height of a nearly century-old manufacturing building and turn it into luxury condos, even though the city agency that would have to approve it hasn't set a date to review the application or hold a public hearing.

At a Community Board 2 meeting in June, neighbors complained that increasing the former Koppers Chocolate factory from six stories to nine and filling it with residents would be bad for the neighborhood.

The Koppers factory is relocating to Liberty View Plaza in Sunset Park, where city tax incentives will lower its rent to just $10 per square foot for a space double the size of what it had at 39 Clarkson St.

Now, its owner is petitioning the city's Board of Standards and Appeals to convert the old West Village building for residential use and increase its height from 85 feet to 110 feet.

Erik Lium, who recently purchased a condo in the nearby Printing House building, said that he did a lot of research before buying his home, in order to make sure that the chocolate factory was zoned by the city such that it could not get taller and block his view.

"These are not trivial decisions, " Lium said. "Why is their economic return more important?"

CB 2 member Sandy Russo came to the meeting armed with a poster board to try to make a case for keeping the building zoned for retail and offices — which it currently is — in order to retain the mixed-use character of the neighborhood.

Russo argued that the area could benefit from ground-floor retail like a grocery store, and referenced the growing industry in nearby Hudson Square, where tech startups and video companies have established offices.

She suggested that 39 Clarkson could even continue to offer space for smaller-scale manufacturing uses, such as video or photo processing, or the kind of creative companies — film production, baking companies or businesses that use three-dimensional printing — that are being drawn to Brooklyn's Industry City and Liberty View Plaza by tax incentives from the city, as Koppers was.

But CB 2 went ahead and recommended the BSA allow the variance, as long as the developer dedicates 20 percent of the building to "permanently affordable condos."

The board even suggested that the developer be allowed to build even higher, if that would assure their ability to turn a profit and still meet that 20 percent affordability demand.

When some members of the public and the board protested that the issue had not been discussed enough, CB 2 Vice Chair Terri Cude mentioned that the plan had been reviewed previously in executive committee meetings.

Meeting notes show the proposal was discussed by the executive committee — made up of the chair, two vice chairs, and secretary, as well as the chairs of all of the board's committees — as far back as April.

The developer's BSA documents make no mention of affordable units, just that they can only turn a marginal profit if allowed to build the extra floors. A spokesperson for the BSA said the board is aware the developer may re-submit new plans including affordable units.