Community Board 3 Approves Union Square Tech Center Proposal, Calls For Zoning Protections

Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

Community Board 3 last night approved a land use application to create a Union Square Tech Training Center at 124 East 14th St.

As we reported Feb. 9, the proposal for a 21-story commercial tower won the support of CB3’s land use and economic development committees. Local preservationists and other community activists were pushing for conditional approval of the tech hub, linking the land use application to a rezoning of the blocks to the south of the development site.

The board stopped short of an ultimatum, but did add the following language in the resolution approved yesterday:

Consistent with previous board support for rezoning the Third and Fourth Avenue corridor, including the December 2017 board resolution, CB3 urges the city to commence the process of rezoning this area as well as incentivize affordable housing and exclude certain use groups such as hotels and big box stores.

The new tech industry hub would be built on a city-owned site that formerly housed a P.C. Richard & Son store. The partners — including RAL Development Services and Civic Hall (a tech training and collaboration non-profit) — plan to create a digital skills training center, flex-office space for startups, market rate office space for established firms and a food hall within the building. There would also be a large meeting facility.

The project is a major priority for the de Blasio administration. In a statement released this morning, Anthony Hogrebe of the city’s Economic Development Corp., said:

The tech training center will establish a physical access point to the city’s tech industry – creating a place where New Yorkers can gain digital skills, access a good-paying job, or start and grow a company. We’re thrilled to receive the support of Community Board 3, and of so many residents in lower Manhattan who have been calling for these resources for years. We thank the members of the community board for their thoughtful recommendations and look forward to working with them throughout – and beyond – the public approval process to make this project a reality.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has been leading a coalition battling for zoning protections. Andrew Berman, GVSHP’s executive director, said last night he’s satisfied with the outcome at CB3:

This (resolution) sends an important message to Mayor de Blasio and developers that we do not want the East Village and Greenwich Village transformed into Silicon Alley or Midtown South. A Tech Hub on 14th Street which provides training and services to New Yorkers and small start-ups can be a valuable addition to our city; but it must be accompanied by zoning protections for the surrounding residential neighborhood which ensures that tech and other development doesn’t push out longtime residents and businesses, or fundamentally change the character of these neighborhoods. What we are proposing is a win-win – the Tech Hub proceeds on 14th Street, and the Mayor lives up to his rhetoric about preserving and promoting affordable housing by advancing this rezoning for the surrounding area that would prevent out of scale development and encourage affordable housing development and preservation. So far he has adamantly refused, only supporting the zoning changes for the Tech Hub, which is to be developed by his campaign donors. We hope he will now listen.
At last night’s meeting, people for the tech hub and those concerned about over-development showed up to speak out about the controversial issue. CB3’s vote was the first step in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The application now goes to the Manhattan Borough President, followed by the City Planning Commission. Finally, there will be a decisive vote by the New York City Council.

Newly elected City Councilmember Carlina Rivera appeared at last night’s meeting. In brief remarks before the vote, Rivera said, “In my negotiations for the rezoning and the tech hub, I wish they were going better than they were.” [City Planning has expressed little enthusiasm for a rezoning.]  “As a community,” added Rivera, “we have a history of resisting and we have a history of pushing forward what we know is best.”

“I honestly think we could use both (the tech center and zoning protections),” said Rivera. “The tech center has the potential to be something great, but we also know that this kind of development can incentivize large-scale buildings and things that maybe we don’t necessarily think are priorities. Whatever you choose. I can use both resolutions. I will use the language to push through what I know are our priorities.”