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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

Application for a variance to allow the restoration, reuse and enlargement of an existing commercial building located partly in a C6-4 district/Special Union Square District and an R8B district.

WHEREAS, The building at 44 Union Square East, known as Tammany Hall, was built in 1929 for the Democratic Party; and

WHEREAS, Tammany Hall is an individual landmark building; and

WHEREAS, The building had been used as an off-broadway theater, the home of the New York Film Academy, and has a number of retail stores on the ground floor; and

WHEREAS, The applicant, Liberty Theatres LLC, has applied to and has been granted permission by LPC to enlarge the building; and

WHEREAS, The easternmost portion of the building sits in a R8B district where commercial use is not permitted as-of-right and the western portion of the building sits in a C6-1 district where commercial uses are allowed; and

WHEREAS, The applicant plans to convert the building to a full commercial use; and

WHEREAS, The applicant plans to enlarge the building by adding a tortoise shaped dome to the roof; and

WHEREAS, The BSA must determine, when granting a variance, that each and every one of five findings identified in Section 72-21 are met

The five findings are:

a)      that there are unique physical conditions, including irregularity, narrowness or shallowness of lot size or shape, or exceptional topographical or other physical  conditions peculiar to and inherent in the particular  #zoning lot#; and that, as a result of such unique  physical conditions, practical difficulties or  unnecessary hardship arise in complying strictly with the #use# or #bulk# provisions of the Resolution; and that the alleged practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship are not due to circumstances created generally by the strict application of such provisions in the neighborhood or district in which the #zoning lot# is located;

b)      that because of such physical conditions there is no reasonable possibility that the #development# of the #zoning lot# in strict conformity with the provisions of this Resolution will bring a reasonable return, and that the grant of a variance is therefore necessary to enable the owner to realize a reasonable return from such #zoning lot#; this finding shall not be required for the granting of a variance to a non-profit organization;

c)      that the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or district in which the #zoning lot# is located; will not substantially impair the appropriate use or development of adjacent property; and will not be detrimental to the public welfare;

d)     that the practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship claimed as a ground for a variance have not been created by the owner or by a predecessor in title; however where all other required findings are made, the purchase of a #zoning lot# subject to the restrictions sought to be varied shall not itself constitute a self-created hardship; and

e)      that within the intent and purposes of this Resolution the variance, if granted, is the minimum variance necessary to afford relief; and to this end, the Board may permit a lesser variance than that applied for.; and

WHEREAS, The applicant states that the size, and shape of the interior of the building, the lack of windows on the south and east facades and other physical conditions make it ill-suited for conforming residential use; and

WHEREAS, The applicant states that the landmark status precludes them from altering the street wall to comply with minimum height when enlarging the building; and

WHEREAS, While, overall, the applicant findings are satisfactory, CB5 has the following concerns:

-        The applicant should have filed for a special permit pursuant to Section 74-711 of the Zoning Resolution, a mechanism within zoning to specifically designed to allow LPC-designated properties to modify use, height limit, bulk, rear yard and setback requirements

-        The capitalization rate of 6% to 7% is high for the highly attractive Union Square location and there was no written evidence provided as to why such high rates are appropriate for one of the most prime locations in Manhattan

-        The projected residential rent per square foot per year of $46.54 is far below market-rate residential rent at Union Square and we do not believe these accurately reflect the very high residential rents that would be achieved in the as-of-right development scenario; and

WHEREAS, Despite these concerns over the methodology, the application would likely meet the five variance findings under Section 72-21 even if proper adjustments were made; therefore be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends approval of the application by Liberty Theatres to grant a variance to 44 Union Square East to enlarge the building and change the use from residential to commercial.

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