City Council Not Enthused About Developer’s Attempt to Alter Special Little Italy District Zoning

Posted on: June 1st, 2017 at 5:00 am by

55 Spring Street, June 2015

City Council is pushing back against one developer’s bid to alter the Special Little Italy District zoning protections, thereby allowing building upgrades at 55-57 Spring Street.

Developer Joseph Brunner (aka JBAM), who acquired the property two years ago, seeks to construct a one-story addition that encompasses the rear courtyard. The construction would enlarge the retail units to the tune of 1,750 square-feet, while simultaneously eliminating the open space for buliding tenants. Team Brunner appeared before City Council on Tuesday to fight for a Zoning Text Amendment that would alter 55-57 Spring Street from Area A to Area A1 zoning, which is the designation directly to the east, so that the ground commercial uses could cover the entire lots (i.e. extend to the property line).

Brunner purchased 55-57 Spring Street in July 2015 for $15.5 million (from Marolda Properties, sued by the state for tenant harassment). The new regime was arguably as bad as the old; residents and retail were affected much the same. Ceci Cela moved to Delancey Street after 25 years on the block when their lease allegedly wasn’t renewed; Eight Turn Crepe closed down (but was replaced with a Korilla BBQ outpost); and tenants were allegedly harassed with structural neglect techniques and construction as harassment. Furthermore, there are concerns about the integrity of the tenement if heavy machinery would be used to dig out the backyard.

The Brunner application, however, met stiff resistance from the Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises during the hearing this past Tuesday. Councilwoman Chin read a letter of opposition, stating that she’s “not convinced” the one-story addition is in the best interest the area. Adding fuel to the proverbial fire, Community Board 2 twice reject the proposal, the Borough President reversed her prior support of the project, and now Chin urges denial.

The applicant’s lawyer countered, noting several “benefits” to the neighborhood, including the commitment to no bars (with or without OP), relocating noisy mechanical equipment to the roof, the addition would have a landscaped roof, and a prohibition on nighttime construction. Another councilman on the panel retorted that these so-called “benefits” were more like concessions to the community. In other words, the situation could get worse if the application doesn’t go through.

Public speakers also gave testimony in opposition. CB2 chair Terri Cude, among others, spoke about how the questionable harassment tactics shouldn’t be “rewarded with the enormous gift of 1,750 square-feet of additional retail space.”

In the end, the panel interpreted the applicant testimony as a “threat.” Yet, since this was just a hearing, no vote was taken. It’s unclear if and when that’ll happen.

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