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Village Residents Fight to Keep Fourth Parking Garage Off Single Block

12:25 PM EDT on September 21, 2011

A rendering of the Rudin family plans for new condos at the site of St. Vincent's Hospital. Rudin wants to include 152 parking spaces, far more than allowed under the zoning or wanted by the community. Image: Rudin via WSJ.

Last year, due to protracted financial difficulties, St. Vincent's in Greenwich Village closed its doors after 150 years, one-and-a-half centuries that saw the hospital play a major role treating victims of the AIDS crisis and the 9/11 attacks. Though many in the neighborhood hoped to see a full-service hospital remain in the Village, a plan eventually emerged to turn the landmark O'Toole building west of Seventh Avenue into an emergency room and outpatient surgery center, while the hospital buildings east of Seventh would be sold to the Rudin family and redeveloped as luxury apartments.

Though the basic shape of the site appears to have taken shape, the details remain hotly contested. In particular, the Rudin request to build a 152-space underground garage.

The garage would be the fourth to front the block of W. 12th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. "This would just add another garage, which would mean more traffic," explained Community Board 2 transportation committee chair Shirley Secunda. "It would also mean another encumbrance on pedestrian access, because you'd have another curb cut."

That would be completely out of step with the pedestrian-oriented design and character of downtown, said former transportation committee vice-chair Ian Dutton. "As far as we know, there aren't any blocks that have four parking garages anywhere below 14th Street," said Dutton. "This is completely unprecedented."

Neither the community nor Rudin wants to put the garage entrance on 11th Street, where drivers would exit next to an elementary school.

The project's environmental impact statement [PDF] shows that, to access the new garage, 33 vehicles would cross the sidewalk in the peak hour of both morning and evening travel. The EIS claims that level of traffic won't adversely affect pedestrian flow, despite an extra car crossing the busy Village sidewalk every other minute for two hours a day.

Fewer cars would need to cross the sidewalk if Rudin were willing to abide by the city's zoning code. Under current regulations, residential developments in Manhattan are only permitted to build one parking space for every five apartments. Rudin wants to build up to 450 units, according to Rudin Executive Vice President John Gilbert, as well as a small amount of commercial space. But under the parking maximums in place, the developer would only be allowed to build 98 parking spaces. If Rudin builds fewer apartments, as may still happen, that would only reduce the number of spaces allowed.

Rudin came up with the 152 space proposal by using the company's other properties to estimate how many St. Vincent's site residents would own cars, said Gilbert. "They say that these people will be wealthier than the people in the neighborhood in general, so they will be more likely to own vehicles," explained Dutton. Thus, though the neighborhood as a whole has one of the lowest car-ownership rates of anywhere in the country, Rudin wants to exceed the parking maximums.

Secunda said that the community board was unlikely to endorse the plan to build extra parking. "The Department of City Planning put in these parking regulations, which are maximums, to reduce the intensity of motor vehicles," she said. "Here they're trying to increase it." A recommendation to scrap the garage entirely is still on the table, said Secunda, though no decisions have been finalized.

In order to receive a special permit from the City Planning Commission to build extra parking, developers must meet five criteria (standards are rife with loopholes). One requirement is that that there be insufficient parking in the vicinity to accommodate demand generated by the project. By Rudin's own application, however, this lot doesn't meet this criteria.

In its land use application [PDF], Rudin points to the general difficulty of parking in the area and developments built since 2009 that replaced nearby surface parking lots, though without citing specific numbers to show a shortfall. But the more technical EIS shows that depending on the time of day, between 263 and 821 parking spaces available within a quarter of a mile from the site. That's well above the 167 spaces Rudin estimates it needs. (Some of the available spaces are in accessory lots attached to residential buildings, where extra spaces are rented out.) "Which is it?" asked Secunda. "Is there not enough parking, or is there a lot of parking?"

If Rudin insists on building a parking garage exiting onto 12th, locals have drawn a line in the sand over the provision of a special permit for extra spaces. "We're taking the position that this shouldn't be a garage and that no matter what there shouldn't be any more than the zoning would allow," said Dutton. "I'm not sure if they're designing for 1975 or designing for Westchester County, but that's not where the community board wants this community to go."

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