Architects representing an iconic, tagged-head-to-toe Long Island City building told an overflowing room of artists tied to the graffiti mecca 5 Pointz last Wednesday that the structure could be torn down immediately if developers wanted.
But they don’t want that. They want more.
The block between Davis and Crain streets with frontage on Jackson Avenue is zoned to allow a medium-density residential building with 628 units, according to Marcie Kesner, a planning and development attorney at Kramer Levin of Manhattan. The plan is to demolish the standing buildings that serve as an urban art canvas and construct a modern apartment complex with the sparkly glass exterior that seems to be a trademark of the new skyscrapers in LIC.
The land’s co-owner David Wolkoff, who owns the property with his father, is asking for a special permit to allow 1,000 residential units, all rentals, in the structure’s place. In return for the extra occupancy Wolkoff must provide 20,000 square feet of public open space and public parking, a stipulation of being a part of the Special LIC Mixed Use District that was approved in 2001. Tenants in the special district could apply to build even denser buildings than what Wolkoff is asking for, but in addition to the parkland and parking the developer would need to make improvements to the subway system, according to the Department of City Planning.
The special permit also allows the applicant to seek height and setback modifications, which Wolkoff has applied for.
The meeting, held by Community Board 2 at MoMA PS 1, was one of two public hearings in the process towards attaining the variance. More public comment will be taken at the June 6 CB 2 meeting.
Plans call for two towers — one with 41 stories, the other 47. Designs show an indoor pool, a 10,000-square-foot gym, an art gallery, five artists studios, a rock-climbing gym, a 250-spot parking garage, and a 20,000-square-foot park area in the back connected by 10,000 square feet of widened sidewalks lined with benches and street trees.
Wolkoff says the studios, gallery and the one large indoor and the few outdoor murals tie the proposed glass towers to 5 Pointz’s past.
“We do love the arts,” Wolkoff said, “but things need to progress.”
Several people questioned the ratio of planned parking spots to the added thousands of residents.
“These are luxury buildings that will attract luxury people,” artist Angel Del Villar said, “and luxury people have cars. How many cars does Mr. Wolkoff have?”
Another audience member noted that many of the residents in the new TF Cornerstone buildings along the waterfront in the southwest end of the neighborhood choose to park on the street rather than pay the high price to use the garage. Nearby residents have spoken out about this added congestion several times at past CB 2 meetings.
The planned parking garage on the 5 Pointz plot will offer market priced fees, Kesner said.
Other artists questioned Wolkoff’s managerial role at the current building, which has a healthy population of rats and more than 140 Department of Building violations.
Others wondered if the developers would get the necessary variances and then sell the property for a hefty sum.
Artist Kim Luttrell was the only member of the public to speak in favor of the project.
“We had to know it was going to happen,” Luttrell, who lives in one Wolkoff’s buildings on the block and will be in charge of leasing the five 400-foot artist studios, said. “At least David is trying to give us a little something.”
“He is giving you a building every day,” she said of the Wolkoff family allowing the graffiti art. “It might not be the same but it is something,” she added about the continuence of art on the block.
Luttrell had to leave out a separate entrance after another audience member got in a confrontation with her about whether she was paid to speak for the project.
Many opposed tearing down a tourist draw and artists’ haven.
“I am not an aerosol artist, but I love it,” Jerry Rotondi, a Queens historian and community activist, said. “To loose the magic would be tragic.”
The about 50 artists erupted into applause.
Jonathan Cohen, graffiti artist and the founder of 5 Pointz, did not clap with the other artists during the meeting or ask any questions.
During public comment Cohen thanked the Wolkoff family for letting him create the legal spot for urban art without a fee, ending his statement with “My only regret is that the people who have allowed me to create such a cultural gem don’t see it as I do.”
Wolkoff hopes the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure will be finished by September so he can start demolition by the end of the year.
“They can’t take our building,” Del Villar said. “We will build a chain around the building. Reinforcements from around the world will come.”