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Garbage In, Garbage Out

What happens when a Department of Sanitation garage is your new neighbor?

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Six brokers sat at a conference table in Chelsea last week comparing woes. They were from competing firms, but they had one thing in common: unsold listings in the Urban Glass House, the Spring Street condo that was Philip Johnson’s final architectural statement. Nearly a third of its 40 units were bought within weeks of its debut in 2005—and then sales stalled. Not one apartment has been resold in five years. (A sponsor unit is just now in contract.) Six have been on the market for months. Four have been marked down, from 6 to 17 percent, and nearly all are asking about the same price or below what they first fetched. A tenth-floor two-bedroom closed in 2006 for $2.469 million; today, it’s listed at $1.895 million and has been since September.

The fickle market is certainly part of this. But another problem lies across the street, where the city plans to put a garage for the Department of Sanitation. Even on this unpolished fringe of Soho, it seems, you can have a little too much grit. Core’s Tom Postilio says, “People come in and they like the product, the building,” but the DSNY garage “is a psychological barrier.” Agrees Corcoran’s Adrian Noriega: “They hear ‘Sanitation,’ and they get scared,” even though the garage won’t be handling actual trash, just trucks.


New York asked StreetEasy.com’s Sofia Song to compare sales at the Urban Glass House with the neighbors’. She found that, even taking the market’s belly flop into account, buildings just blocks away are doing better. Around the corner at 505 Greenwich, a penthouse that went for $2.036 million in 2005 resold this past May for $2.675 million. A one-bedroom that closed for $672,045 in 2005 resold for $895,000 last December. And at 255 Hudson, a unit that closed in 2006 for $1.03 million recently found a buyer at $1.07 million. Even more telling, she notes, is the lack of resales at the Urban Glass House. (Appraiser Jonathan Miller says for a building that size, there’s usually one or two per year.)

Early this year, a judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by neighborhood groups to stop the garage. Carole De Saram, president of the Tribeca Community Association, says they’re appealing this summer. Owners in the neighborhood are in a cautious, watch-and-wait mood. “To add a building that should be in a manufacturing area will affect property values, no question,” says Stas Zakrzewski, who lives four blocks from the site. De Saram, a former real-estate agent, says she’s befuddled by the city’s decision, considering that the area was rezoned in 2003 to encourage residential building. “Who the hell in their right mind puts a garbage facility near developments that cost hundreds of millions of dollars?”

Maybe so, but the fight is losing steam. The construction contract is already under review, with a September start date in the works, says a DSNY spokesperson. So, failing that, brokers say they’re arming themselves with renderings of the garage. After all, the current lot is itself an eyesore, and in the renderings (see inset), the garage is quite presentable. Song, for her part, thinks the Urban Glass House will do okay in the end. “It will always be a notable building because of its lineage,” she says. “Right now, it’s suffering the initial aftershock … Once people see how [the garage] is, they can deal.” Adds one agent: “I almost wish they’d just build it already. It’s the fear of the unknown.”


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