Oct. 7, 2019 By Christian Murray
Community Board 2 approved a series of zoning modifications to the 5Pointz towers Thursday but only after much debate–and a call for the project to include a 5,000 square foot library.
The board took two votes on the contentious plan before agreeing to approve the zoning changes. The modifications—which involve an extra floor to each tower and various tweaks — were approved on the second vote but only after a library was included.
Jerry Wolkoff, the controversial 5Pointz developer, sat at the back of the room during the vote and was surprised by the board’s decision.
“I went there for a minor modification and this library came out of nowhere,” Wolkoff said after the vote. “Suddenly I’m in charge of a library. I don’t know how this relates to me.”
Wolkoff presented his revised plans earlier in the meeting, which call for 254 studios, 595 one bedrooms, 261 two bedrooms and 12 three bedrooms. The number of units was higher than the 1,000 units he indicated when he was granted a special zoning permit in 2013. However, he reduced the number of 3-bedroom units, so the floor area still complies with the permit.
The initial vote was to approve the modifications based on Wolkoff’s pledge to build 220 affordable units per a 421-a tax abatement; pay service workers a prevailing wage; and increase art studio/gallery space. The board’s Land Use Committee recommended that the full board approve the motion.
The board, however, rejected the motion by a vote of 20-8, with board member Sheila Lewandowski arguing that Wolkoff was providing the community with no real benefit under such an agreement.
She said that Wolkoff was getting tax credits on the 220 affordable units and that he needed to give the community more.
But board member Stephen Cooper disagreed with Lewandowski and advocated for the Land Use Committee’s recommendation. “It’s a minor modification and if we reject it the city will pass it anyway, I assure you. It is a minor modification…It’s a done deal.”
Cooper said the modifications were hardly noticeable and the building is the same size as what was put forward in 2013—just a slightly different shape.
But Lewandowski insisted Wolkoff had to give something back to the community in lieu of the approval.
Lewandowski said that the Court Square library that is located in the Citigroup building is slated to close and that Wolkoff could provide the space at $1 a year in his building like the bank had for many years. The library’s current lease is ending.
The board voted in favor of Lewandowski’s proposal, 24-to-5, which included the provisions put forward by the Land Use committee.
The board’s recommendation is advisory and the City Planning Commission will make the determination as to whether the library should be a requirement of the zoning modifications. The commission, however, has a long history of approving plans counter to the recommendations of community boards.
Wolkoff’s zoning application–deemed a “minor modification” by City Planning–does not have to go before the city council for a vote or before the borough president.
Last week’s approval came about two months after the board rejected Wolkoff’s initial application. The board argued at the time that he had not been forthcoming in his application and wrote a strongly worded to the City Planning Commission outlining why his modification should be denied.
The rejection was not based on the plan itself but on Wolkoff’s perceived lack of transparency. For instance, Wolkoff changed the unit mix from what was put forward in the 2013 special permit. He was slow to inform the board what the changes were—even though they still complied with the special permit.
Wolkoff, who apologized for not being responsive to the board two months ago, was perplexed by Thursday’s vote.
“I had been approved by the Land Use Committee last week and then it goes before the full board I’m told I should be building a library. Who knows, I’ll look into it.”