July 3, 2013 By Christian Murray
Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of the 5 Pointz building, was livid when he learned that his plan to build two residential towers where the graffiti icon now stands was rejected by Community Board 2 last month.
“I wasn’t upset with the community,” Wolkoff said. “I was upset that my staff did not find out what the community needed and took them for granted.”
He said his staff would tell him that “things are coming along great” and that everything is going to plan. However, he said, it was clear that they were not in tune community.
Wolkoff said that he’s been involved with the Long Island City community for 40 years and has worked with artists and promoted their art for decades. “I’ve seen people grow up in this area. It is not like I’m from Manhattan (or elsewhere) and I have just bought a piece of property.”
“I would never have presented a building that I didn’t think had community support,” Wolkoff said.
Wolkoff, who was represented by his son David and a fleet of consultants at the community board meetings, continues to seek a special permit that would allow him to build 1,000 units–370 more than permitted ‘as of right’ by present zoning. The focus has not been on whether the graffiti icon will be demolished (Wolkoff can do that “as of right”) but whether he will be permitted to build so many units.
The community board, which plays an advisory role, sighted a slew of reasons for opposing the special zoning permit. They cited, among other items, that his plan made no provision for affordable housing, that it lacked a meaningful number of art studios, and that there was a lack of low-cost parking spaces.
Shortly after Community Board 2 rejected his plan, Wolkoff convened a meeting with several board members.
Wolkoff, who didn’t attend the community board 2 public meetings on the proposed development, said he went to the meeting and said ‘tell me your concerns and I will try and take care of them.”
Wolkoff said: “I was sorry that it had come to that point. “
Joe Conley, chairman of community board 2, confirmed Wolkoff’s desire for a meeting and his aim to learn more about the community’s objections.
Wolfkoff said he sat down with the board members and drew up a list of items the community sought. “It wasn’t a case of you give me this and I will give you that. I said ‘what are people asking for?”
He told the board members that he would increase the size of the artist space from 2,000sq ft. (about 5 studios) to 12,000 sq ft.
Wolkoff said that when he learned that the public sought affordable housing, he revised his plan to include 54 affordable units. That number equates to 20% of the 370 extra units that the special permit would provide. He said that the units would be of the same quality as the market-rate units.
Wolkoff also said that he would display art work on the streets surrounding the development, as well as provide inexpensive parking.
Wolkoff said he would have included these provisions in the first place had his staff informed him of what the community sought.
Despite the changes, Community Board 2 remains on record as rejecting the proposal. The plan, which includes Wolkoff’s revisions, is in the hands of Borough President Helen Marshall. Her office held a hearing on the proposal on Thursday and is expected to make a decision on the plan any day now, according to her spokesman.
Should Marshall approve it, the plan will go to the City Planning Commission. While the commission could nix the application, it is likely to move on to the City Council for a vote.
Conley said that had Wolkoff included these provisions in the plan that was presented to Community Board 2 the vote may have gone a different way.
Wolkoff said that he would continue to work with the community to meet its concerns but realizes that he can’t keep everyone happy. He said that when he allowed the artists to paint on the building, he would get complaints from people saying ‘why do you allow this’ ugly graffiti. Now there are people who can’t stand the prospect of seeing the building go.
“Some people are never happy,” Wolkoff said. “Some people don’t like the Mona Lisa; they say she smiles too much.”