The Related Companies has filed plans with the city's Department of Buildings to construct the tallest tower on "the Gold Coast," the stretch of Greenwich Village waterfront that is fast becoming known as the location of some of New York's most exclusive residences.
To make way for a 20-story high-rise, the Superior Ink factory at 70 Bethune St., which was a Nabisco cracker bakery when it opened in 1919, would be destroyed. That has raised the ire of preservationists who are fighting to get the neighborhood designated a historic district and prevent the demolition of the area's noteworthy buildings.
"The proposed building is completely inappropriate for this site, and we absolutely intend to fight it, and fight hard," the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Andrew Berman, said.
According to the filing, the building would reach 225 feet. That is 15 feet taller than the next-highest building, the Richard Meier glass towers at Perry and Charles streets.
The firm behind the Related Companies' asymmetrical glass Astor Place Tower on Lafayette Street, Gwathmey Siegel Associates, will design the new building. A source familiar with its design said the new construction would look "not dissimilar to the Astor Place building, except with a six- to seven-story base instead of a two-story base." The amoeba-shaped tower would face the West Side Highway, with views overlooking the Hudson River and townhouses built along Bethune.
Superior Printing Inks, the company that owns the factory, sold the building to the Related Companies in a private deal. The printing company, which has two other factories in the New York metropolitan region, at Long Island and at New Jersey, did not return calls.
The still-operating factory on Bethune Street, with its twin, 100-foot smokestacks in working order since the bakery opened when Woodrow Wilson was president, had been part of a broader complex of Nabisco buildings now known as the Chelsea Market.
The Related Companies had no comment, but sources familiar with the project told The New York Sun the developer has been meeting with officials at the Department of City Planning about a possible rezoning. The site is zoned for manufacturing and would need to be rezoned for residential.
Mr. Berman said his group would battle any zoning change. "This is not new for us," he said. "We've been around this block before and we've been successful."
To build the 104-unit high rise, Related would also need a larger floor-area ratio than the zoning now allows. The Superior Ink factory site, which has a floor area of 32,210 square feet, has a FAR of 1.76, which would allow the construction of a building of roughly 56,600 square feet. The building the Related Companies has proposed would be 216,899 square feet, requiring a FAR closer to seven. That could be achieved only through a rezoning or a variance.
It is unlikely the developer is pursuing a variance, because Related officials have not met with the Board of Standards and Appeals to discuss the matter, according to an official who works at the board and requested anonymity. The board is the body that approves variances.
"With such a large project, it is also more difficult to get a variance than a zoning change," the official said.
The City Council and Department of City Planning must approve a rezoning, but for a variance the board requires that an applicant prove the project is the "minimum variance necessary," or the smallest change that is needed to make a reasonable return on the property.
"The assertion that a 20-story, 225-foot, super-luxury residential tower is the minimum necessary for Related to turn a profit on this site is, on its face, ludicrous," Mr. Berman said.
This is the latest battle in a war pitting the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation against residents and developers who are looking to take advantage of what has become one of the toniest areas in downtown. The artists Julian Schnabel, Kenny Schachter, and Annie Leibovitz have locked horns with the group when trying to sell or change the historic characters of buildings they owned.
In a bid to protect the area from development, preservationists have submitted a proposal to the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate a historic district in the area bounded by Gansevoort Market to the north, the printing house and warehouse district to the south, the Hudson River waterfront to the west, and Greenwich Village to the east.
A spokeswoman for Landmarks, Diane Jackier, said yesterday the staff was still studying the proposal.
According to the proposal, 100 significant buildings are in the district, and they consider several to be in danger of destruction. Those include 303 W. 10th St., purchased by Lehman Brothers, and 383 and 387 W. 12th St., which the designer Diane von Furstenberg sold to the Russian heiress Anna Anismova.
"Related should be prepared because they are going to have a big fight on their hands," Mr. Berman said.
Correction from March 2, 2005:
The Board of Standards and Appeals met with the Related Companies in June 2004 regarding plans to develop the Superior Ink site at 70 Bethune St. and the Related Companies plans to file for a variance to develop a 20-story building at the site "later this week." A story on Page 1 of the February 25-27 New York Sun included incorrect information on the process released by the BSA.