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Developers Drop Controversial Plan to Add Extra Floor to Post Office Site

By Allegra Hobbs | March 28, 2017 5:32pm
 Benenson Capital Partners, LLC unveiled plans for a mixed use building on the site of a former post office.
Benenson Capital Partners, LLC unveiled plans for a mixed use building on the site of a former post office.
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Benenson Capital Partners, LLC

EAST VILLAGE — Developers have scrapped a contested bid to build a nine-story building at the site of the former Peter Stuyvesant Post Office at 432-438 E. 14th St., opting instead to build a shorter structure allowed under the area's zoning — a change activists say is a victory for neighborhood preservation.

After a plan to stick a 12-story structure on the site was met with an outpouring of community opposition, developers several weeks ago knocked three stories off the proposal submitted to the Board of Standards and Appeals. Under the revised plan, the mixed-use development would have risen to nine stories on the 14th Street side of the building, only one story higher than the eight stories allowed under the current zoning.

That slashing reduced the planned number of apartments in the building from 155 to 130, and the number of affordable units from 31 to 26.

But the dialed-down version of the development still incensed local activists, who felt Benenson Capital Partners and the Mack Real Estate Group's claims of financial hardship were disingenuous and that the added height did not belong in the largely low-rise area.

Legal representatives for the developers on Monday asked to withdraw the application altogether, according to a letter sent to the Board of Standards and Appeals — the day before they were scheduled to present their revised plan before the board.

The developers will instead move ahead with the version of the development that's allowed without a variance, a representative confirmed. It will rise to eight stories on 13th Street and seven stories on 14th Street, and will contain 114 apartments, 23 of which will be set aside as below-market-rate, according to documents submitted to the BSA.

Activists who showed up at Tuesday's hearing to rally against the variance application, not knowing it had been scrapped, were elated by the news.

"This is a victory for the East Village and all New Yorkers who care about preserving our neighborhoods and ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, in a statement.

"We have reasonable parameters for the size and height of new developments in our neighborhood, which protects the East Village’s unique character," Berman said. "This developer showed no legal justification for being exempted from those rules.  We’re glad that at the end of the day they listened to hundreds of neighbors, GVSHP members, and union activists and dropped their variance request."

Developers had argued the as-of-right development would not be financially feasible, stating that additional height and floor space was needed to make up for steep construction costs resulting from poor groundwater and soil conditions at the site, though neighbors and activists doubted the reasoning.

An attorney for the project at a previous BSA hearing had stated that if the variance were denied, the developers were willing to put the project on hold until market conditions "became more favorable."

A spokesman for the property owner said the decision was made in order to hurry along the development process, noting the board seemed unlikely to vote on the variance soon.

"We felt we had to withdraw the application since it appeared that a decision was not imminent, and we wanted to have affordable units on line as soon as possible," said a spokesman for Benenson Capital Partners. "It is unfortunate that we were not able to deliver even more affordable units to the community, as we had hoped to do.”

Construction is already underway at the property, as it was necessary to break ground in order to lock in 421-a tax breaks to ensure the site's below-market-rate units, an attorney for the team has said.