EAST VILLAGE — Developers planning apartments and retail space for the former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office site are now seeking the city’s permission to build four stories higher than the area’s current zoning allows — provoking outrage from locals who say more market-rate units in towering buildings are the last thing their community needs.
Months after pitching an 8-story building for the site at 432 E. 14th St., Benenson Capital Partners and the Mack Real Estate Group have now applied for a variance through the Board of Standards and Appeals that, if granted, would allow them to instead build a 12-story structure.
And though the developers argue they need the extra floor space to make up for costly and unforeseen complications that sprung up during construction, community members are calling for a flat rejection of the variance.
“If you guys didn’t do your homework, I’m not sure why the community has to suffer for your error,” said Alexis Adler of the East 12th Street Block Association. “It is going to change the total character of our neighborhood….We’re losing affordable housing and people are being pushed out so you can put up taller buildings.”
Preservationists, residents and block association reps gathered at Community Board 3’s Land Use Subcommittee meeting on Wednesday to rail against the plan, arguing that the added height would alter the neighborhood’s character, while the added market-rate units would only threaten to displace longtime locals.
The added height would be only on the side of the building facing East 14th Street, while the side facing East 13th Street would remain "contextual" with surrounding buildings.
The increase would bring a total of 155 units to the neighborhood — 41 more than the initially proposed 114 — 124 of which would be market-rate, while 31 would be set aside as below-market-rate.
The below-market-rate units would cater to those making around 60 percent of the city’s area median income — roughly $38,000 for a one-person household and roughly $48,000 for a three-person household — and would remain “affordable” for thirty years.
But those 31 “affordable” units — eight more than first pitched — would not make up for the influx of pricier dwellings, argued community members, who demanded the developer consider including more affordable units to compensate for the added building height.
“The negative impact of more market-rate units does not outweigh the benefit of the 20 percent of affordable units," said Dolores Schaefer of the 13th Street Block Association in a statement read aloud by another community member.
The lawyer representing the developers, John B. Egnatios-Beene of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, spoke at length about the “very challenging” construction site that he says has forced developers to add on to the project to meet the required profit margin. Large amounts of water under the site and poor soil conditions required expensive work on the basement level, and now developers must add more square footage to turn a profit at all, he argued.
Many community members expressed skepticism that the developer did not know about the groundwater — a common and widely-known problem in the East Village, according to Adler and others.
Meanwhile, committee chair MyPhuong Chung, herself an architect, questioned whether building higher was truly the only solution to the problem, suggesting the team explore the possibility of setting back the building — though it would infringe on an outdoor courtyard — to avoid such a drastic height increase.
“I’m not convinced you have brought the minimum variance,” she said, noting that proposing the "minimum variance" is a requirement of the Board of Standards and Appeals.
After initially voting 9-5 to deny the request, the committee ultimately tabled the vote and asked the team to come back after both exploring alternatives to increasing building height and requesting a greater percentage of “affordable” units.