Small West Chelsea building ignites parking debate


West 20th Street is a mostly commercial block, but DDG Partners is planning to fill the gap with a nine-unit residential building. Photo: Amanda L.P. Gomez.

West 20th Street is a mostly commercial block, but DDG Partners is planning to fill the gap with a nine-unit residential building. Photo: Amanda L.P. Gomez.

On October 5, Community Board 4 approved a variance for eight additional parking spots for DDG Partners’ new nine-unit residential building on West 20th Street in a letter to New York City’s Board of Standard Appeals.

In the rapidly gentrifying West Chelsea neighborhood, developers are racing to offer top-of-the-line amenities – from swimming pools to IMAX theaters. There’s even a sky garage nearby . Even so, DDG’s plans to have a parking spot or two for each of the nine apartments has created some controversy among local residents.

According to city regulation, each new residential building south of  60th Street in Manhattan can have parking spots equal to 20 percent of the number of apartments. This would allow for two parking spots for 532 West 20th Street, but the developers requested the special permit to add eight spots to the building, which will sit on a mostly commercial block that ends at the West Side Highway.

About 23 percent of households in the core of Manhattan – which the Department of City Planning defines as south of East 96th Street and West 110th Street – have a vehicle. Only 20 percent of those drivers use their cars to commute to work, while the majority of car owners use them for recreational or other purposes. Still, the number of vehicles in Manhattan’s core increased by 27 percent from 1980 to 2009, while the number of households rose just 7 percent, according to the department.

The city attributes that increase to the jump in Manhattan’s median household income, which grew 239 percent from $36,640 in 1980 to $87,625 in 2009. More affluent residents are also more likely to own a car, making a parking spot in West Chelsea an appealing amenity.

In the area surrounding the DDG’s new project, new parking spots are expected to equal only 17.1 percent of the total of new units, which is below the city’s maximum of 20 percent.

The city implemented a parking-spot cap in 1982 to improve air quality by reducing overall traffic – and while West Chelsea has many commercial lots, the city’s planning department concluded in 2011 that spaces do not meet demand.

“West Chelsea has an unusual amount of commercial parking,” said David Holowka, a member of the Chelsea Land Use committee who attended CB4  meeting where the letter was ratified.

“You have to be crazy to own a car in Manhattan,” said Erik Marcus, a writer and resident of West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Marcus, who keeps his car in upstate New York, said he would like to see New York City actively discourage driving by reducing street parking.

But not everyone agrees. Wade Watson, a photographer who lives on the same block as Marcus, said there is not enough affordable parking. Ten years ago, Watson paid about $200 a month to park his SUV in a lot on West 20th Street, but prices have tripled since then. Edison ParkFast on West 21st Street charges $600 a month to lease a parking space. Watson, who parks his SUV on the street and moves it twice a week because of street-cleaning, is considering downsizing to a smaller car.

As is common in the neighborhood, DDG will offer parking spaces to residents in a separate sale; they’re not linked to the individual apartments, said Betty Mackintosh, co-chair of the Chelsea Land Use committee.

Steve Snider, a licensed real estate salesperson at CORE, does not think separate deeds for the apartment and the parking spot is a good selling point, especially with the rise of car-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft. A parking space can cost about $350,000 to purchase and not every apartment buyer wants one, he said. Snider, who owns a car and parks it on the street in the West Village, believes the parking spot should be included in the price of the apartment. He knows some homeowners who own unused parking spots and sublet the spots to family or friends.

The median price for a two-bedroom condominium in West Chelsea is $3.7 million, but co-ops can cost half of that, according to data collected by StreetEasy.

If the parking spots are not sold, DDG will lease them on a month-to-month basis to local residents, such as those living in the 32-unit building on 500 West 21st Street, where there are only nine parking spots. DDG declined to disclose the potential cost to buy or lease the parking spots.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to CORE as Core.