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Big & Beautiful for Hell’s kitchen

Big & Beautiful for Hell’s kitchen

New York Post 12/3/2008


SHOULD Community Board 4 approve a building that’s gorgeous, but immense? The board must decide tonight, as it holds a public hearing and vote on the 900-unit mixed-use project, Clinton Park, proposed by Two Trees, the Walentas family firm that rejuvenated Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood.

The board worries that the precedent will open the door to other big – but mundane – developments. Nonetheless, this is as admirable a residential project as Hell’s Kitchen has ever seen, well worth the board’s OK.

The site is a 100,000-square-foot former Verizon parking lot between 53rd and 54th Streets and 10th and 11th Avenues. Architect Enrique Norten, principal of TEN Arquitectos, designed a 32-story zig-zag development that incorporates some 16,000 square feet of retail, a 31,000-square-foot health club and a 236,000-square-foot Mercedes dealership (and repair shop) – plus a 28,000-square-foot stables and exercise ring for the NYPD’s mounted unit.

The proposed stables are there at the board’s request – because the community had feared the NYPD’s mounted unit would have to leave the neighborhood. For years, it’s been forced to move from one (inadequate) site to another and must shortly exit its current location at Pier 76.

“We’ve always been so happy to have the mounted unit in our midst,” says CB4 land-use committee chair Anna Levin. “They’re such a nice police presence, and we would love to keep them.” The exercise ring would be in a glass-enclosed space rather similar to the wonderful Alvin Ailey dance studios that have reawakened the street life of 55th Street and 9th Avenue.

But that’s hardly the only value the project brings to the neighborhood – which, thanks in part to its long-outdated zoning for industrial and commercial use, is rather bleak and empty, marred by outsized buildings like the ugly 457-foot tall Verizon switching tower that looms over the eastern edge of the Two Trees site.

The Walentas project blocks much of the Verizon tower from sight – indeed, that’s the highest part of Two Trees – while allowing a park on another side to still “breathe.”

Norten shaped the residential towers into an S pattern on top of a three-story base. Along 11th Avenue (across from DeWitt Clinton Park), the tower steps up from seven stories on the north to 10 on the south. On the site’s eastern border, the tower steps up from 27 stories on the north to 30 stories plus two mechanical levels on the south (obscuring much of the Verizon building). Part of the base will have a flat roof covered by garden terraces.

In other words, the architect has alleviated a sense of mass by zig-zagging the stepped floors and by providing plenty of air and light.

Still, Levin and other board members worry about size. “If this project, which is purely a private project on private property, goes forward,” asks Levin, “then what will be the scale of other projects?” Of particular concern is a city-owned affordable-housing site between 44th and 45th Streets.

As development has moved west from Midtown, up from Chelsea and down from the Upper West Side, its pressures have converged on the mis-zoned sites of Hell’s Kitchen and Clinton. The Department of City Planning is preparing a set of rezoning proposals, which will themselves have to wend their way through the city’s land-use review procedures.

In the meantime, this handsome project should be allowed to go forward, setting remarkably high standards for all development – private and public – to come. The board’s task will then be to enforce those standards.