July 12, 2013 By Christian Murray
Staunch advocates for the preservation of the 5 Pointz building are not going to be getting the support of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
The councilman said that it would make no sense for the city to buy the graffiti Mecca and that the future of the community would be better served by housing—filled with young families—and a bustling retail district.
He said he is not an advocate for keeping the 5 Pointz building in its current form. He said that he believes in “property rights” and that the owner of the property—Jerry Wolkoff– is entitled to develop the site as long as his plans meet zoning rules and regulations.
Wolkoff plans to demolish the 5 Pointz building and develop two residential towers–one would be 47 stories high and the other 41 stories.
Van Bramer said the real issue is whether Wolkoff should be awarded a special zoning permit that would allow him to build 1,000 apartment units, 370 more than permitted “as of right” by present zoning rules. “They have requested a significant increase and they are not entitled to it,” he said. “They have to work with the community … and earn it.”
Van Bramer dismisses the idea that the city should buy the building. “First of all, you need a willing seller and the Wolkoff family is not interested in selling,” he said. Furthermore, “It would probably cost tens of millions—if not hundreds of millions—to buy it and renovate it… which would be a foolish expenditure of city funds.”
Therefore, his focus is on monitoring Wolkoff’s application for the special permit– as it weaves it way through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process.
In the first step of the ULURP process, Wolkoff’s plan was unanimously rejected by Community Board 2, which serves as an ‘advisory’ body.
The board voted against Wolkoff’s application for the special permit—citing several concerns, such as the lack of affordable housing and the paltry amount of studio space he was offering artists.
Wolkoff revised the plan to include 54 affordable units. He also increased the amount of studio space for artists to 12,000 sq ft. , up from 2,000sq ft. (about 5 studios), and said he would place aerosol artwork around the site.
The Queens Borough Presidents Office, which has already held a hearing on the plan, is reviewing the amended plan and is likely to render a decision within the next two weeks.
The plan MUST be approved by the Queens Borough President’s Office, the City Planning Commission and, ultimately, the city council before the special permit is awarded.
The spotlight is starting to shift toward Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City, as the plan moves toward the council for a vote in the new few months. He is likely to sway which way the city council votes on the plan, since it is in his district.
Van Bramer said he would still like Wolkoff to provide a greater number of affordable units than the 54 he proposed, and said that “this is a conversation we will look to have with them at the appropriate time.”
Van Bramer said he did not want to discuss the desired number of affordable units at this time. He said the plan is likely to change throughout the ULURP process before it finally gets to him.
However, he did say that the 12,000 sq ft in studio space was a significant increase. “I think they have met the desire of the community board,” Van Bramer said.
Some of the staunch advocates of 5 Pointz argue that Wolkoff’s money is playing a part in the decision making process.
Van Bramer’s 2013 election campaign fund has received a significant amount of money from the Wolkoffs.
David Wolkoff, the son of Jerry, has contributed $2,750.00 to Van Bramer, with other Wolkoff family members contributing a total of about $5,250. This represents a little less than 6% of the $143,000 that Van Bramer has amassed.
Van Bramer, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary, dismisses the contributions as having any impact on his views toward Wolkoff’s plans.
“My integrity is the most important thing to me and I came in to this job with that and I will leave this job with that,” he said. “No contribution affects the way I vote or decisions I make.”
“Truth is, I could still vote against it [granting the special permit],” he said. “There are still some outstanding issues.”