Representatives for the developers of the controversial Trump SoHo appeared before the Land Use Committee of Community Board #2 on Thursday evening, seeking support for their application before the City Planning Commission to permit private outdoor dining in the public plaza adjacent to the hotel.
However, the committee was critical of the request and voted to send a recommendation of denial to the City Planning Commission.
After all, they argued, one of the chief reasons that Trump SoHo was allowed to build so high and destroy the downtown skyline with its 45-story intrusion is that the developer received an Urban Plaza Bonus from the City. This zoning provision allows the City to give a developer a 20% increase in the bulk normally permitted, in effect allowing the building to be 20% taller than the zoning laws would normally allow. In exchange for this giveaway, the developer must agree to set aside part of the building lot for public use, filled with public amenities like seating, tables, shade trees and planters for any and all to use and enjoy, free of charge.
With the urban plaza only opened for a couple of months, Trump SoHo now wants back almost 1000 square feet of the plaza for private, outdoor dining for the customers of the hotel’s pricey restaurant. In other words, in an attempt at a zoning flim-flam that would rival any three-card monte dealer’s stealth and chutzpah, Trump now taketh with one hand what he just gaveth with the other.
Although this request is perfectly legal, one of the findings that the developer must satisfy is that the public’s use of the plaza not be obstructed. It would seem a truism that privatizing part of a public plaza would obstruct the public’s use of the plaza.
Trump SoHo representatives had the temerity to suggest that granting their request for private dining in public space would “enliven” the area, which they claim is currently underutilized. However, the board members noted that the plaza has only been opened for a couple of months, and, of course, few people would be using a public plaza in the brutal winter New York has just experienced.
The developers also claimed without a trace of irony that a private café in the public plaza would draw more people inside to sit, sun bathe, and enjoy the space. However, the committee members countered that many people, seeing private waiter service provided for Trump’s customers, would assume that the plaza was private, not public, and not enter and use it, in direct conflict with the intent of the zoning.
A member of the Hudson Square Business Improvement District who sits on the committee recommended that the developers give the public a year to discover the spot before applying to take over the space for their own use. Others on the committee concurred, noting that the residents and workers in this park-starved area of Manhattan will flock to the public plaza, now that the warm weather is arriving.
A representative of the SoHo Alliance, a civic group that has sued the development for being overbuilt, was quick to observe that this application is a land grab by Trump SoHo, typical of the arrogance and contempt that the developer has demonstrated towards the community from Day One.
The City Planning Commission will decide before summer whether to grant the permit, but the representatives of the downtown community who serve on the land-use committee made it pretty clear that this request by Trump SoHo was premature and unwarranted, and wanted no part of it.