Responding to requests from the community board and advocacy groups, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn did what neither the City Planning Commission nor Borough President Scott Stringer would: reduce the excessive number of parking spaces planned for the Rudin family’s redevelopment of the St. Vincent’s Hospital site.
Originally, Rudin proposed building 152 spaces for 450 luxury apartments. That far exceeded the parking maximums in the Village, which would have allowed only 98 spaces. The local community board unanimously recommended that no garage be built at the site, noting that the entrance would be the fourth on a single block, unprecedented for the area. If parking had to be built, they said, there certainly shouldn’t be any more than allowed by law.
Afterward the community board weighed in, however, officials still supported the Rudin bid for extra parking spaces. Stringer, relying on Rudin’s environmental analysis, argued that without spaces of their own, the development’s residents would put too much pressure on nearby parking garages, even though they would not fill them. Then the City Planning Commission approved the special permit needed to build the extra parking, even though the developers failed to show that they needed to exceed the city’s parking maximums.
Final approval for any zoning change has to go through the City Council. In this case, Christine Quinn, both the Speaker and the local representative, could dictate the outcome. The project was seen as a political challenge for Quinn as she runs for mayor, forcing her to placate both her traditional political base in the Village and the big real estate interests she has courted more recently.
As part of a deal struck Wednesday, the number of parking spaces at the new development will drop from 152 to 95. The number of apartments will also be lowered, however, from 450 to 350, while the total square footage will remain the same. Even with the decrease in housing units, the parking ratio for the project falls from 34 percent to 27 percent. But the smaller parking ratio is still more than allowed for regular developments in the Village.
A spokesperson for Quinn’s office said the parking reduction came in response to the community board’s request but did not speak to Quinn’s position on parking policy more generally.
The Municipal Art Society, which advocated against allowing excess parking at the St. Vincent’s site, applauded the change. “Normally, the Council is reluctant to step in,” said MAS Director of Planning Raju Mann. “Hopefully, this signals some indication on the part of the Speaker’s office that this is an issue they care about and are willing to make changes on high-profile developments for.”