Sperone Westwater Opposes 25-Story Hotel Project

215 Chrystie Street.

The developer of a proposed 25-story hotel at 215 Chrystie Street has a new nemesis: the well-connected proprietors of Sperone Westwater, the neighborhood’s most conspicuous art gallery.  At this morning’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) hearing, Angela Westwater and the gallery’s attorneys were sharply critical of the project, which they said is “completely out of context” for the Lower East Side.

In September, Community Board 3 offered its support to the proposal for a 376 room, 274 foot-tall hotel (with apartments at the top of the tower).  Ruby Schron, the owner of the parcel and of adjoining affordable housing complex 10 Stanton Street, agreed to renew the government contract (keeping 10 Stanton affordable for the next two decades) if the residents and CB3 supported the hotel project.  Today the owner’s attorneys went before the BSA to amend a 1982 variance to allow for the hotel.

During September’s community board hearing, CB3 members faced a gut-wrenching decision — having to choose between another large development project that is sure to accelerate gentrification and the preservation of affordable housing for 147 families who have called the LES complex home for the past 25 years.  The owner agreed to restore certain amenities (such as a kids’ play area) and to add new amenities, including a rooftop recreational area. Today Alysha Lewis-Coleman, 10 Stanton’s tenant president,  said the agreement benefits the community at-large because it “keeps low income families in their homes… we knew we had to do it or we’d be displaced.”

Sperone Westwater Gallery.

The Sperone Westwater delegation, however, sees things differently.  A lawyer for the eight-story, Norman Foster-designed tower opened two years ago at 257 Bowery, said the hotel would be a serious threat to the gallery.  “It’s quite drastic in how it addresses its neighbors,” he said, noting that the new project would be more than twice as tall as the neighboring Avalon apartment building.  Angela Westwater told commissioners the gallery made a commitment to the Lower East Side, in part due to the Bowery’s great “artistic energy.” She said the building, with its wall of east-facing windows depends on superior natural light. “The proposal compromises the architectural character of our building… but also destroys the soul of our neighborhood.”

The Sperone Westwater team expressed similar concerns at a recent meeting of a new block association on the Bowery.  One longtime resident who attended that meeting, K Webster, told us today she finds it odd that a large-scale gallery whose arrival in the neighborhood helped set the stage for more “over-development” of the Bowery is now complaining about a new “out-of-scale” building.  While local residents have many misgivings about the proposed hotel tower, she said, they have made the decision that, in this case, preserving affordable housing is a higher priority.

Others testified at today’s hearing, including Penny Jones of the Liz Christy Community Garden on East Houston and 2nd Avenue.  She said the Avalon had already blocked sunlight from reaching the garden in the winter months.  Jones requested an environmental study to find out how the hotel tower would impact sunlight.

The applicant’s attorneys are making the case that the site is an “as-of-right” property and that the owner is not contemplating anything that’s not already allowed by existing zones ordinances.  He also noted that the building’s “footprint” is actually relatively small, since a 50 foot “setback” is required on the parcel.

The commissioners ended up giving Sperone Westwater three weeks to submit a written response to the hotel proposal.  A vote on the matter was scheduled for November 27.