If you’ve been by the corner of 24th and Tenth in the past few days, you may have noticed that the gas station that once operated there has been replaced, seemingly overnight, by a pastoral, lush, green sheep’s meadow, complete with 25 actual grazing sheep. Or—if you are a student of the modern French decorative arts, perhaps you recognize this whimsical installation as a display of the late François-Xavier Lalanne’s Mouton sculptures. Good for you, but either way, the first question that likely crossed your mind is, are these sheep permitted by the underlying zoning? [Now is the right time to note that this firm currently represents certain parties with an ownership interest in the site in question. - Ed.]
Setting aside for the moment any judgment of the branding strategy at work here (though the general consensus has been unqualified approval), and kidding aside, this actually was the first question that crossed our minds, and we offer this unsolicited, preliminary zoning analysis (which we recommend be verified by a qualified code consultant).
First, we note that the site is located within a C6-3 district, which is a high-density commercial district. The bulk rules of a C6-3 district are relatively permissive and allow a variety of building forms, and it also permits a wide range of uses, including all kinds of residential, community facility and commercial uses (but no manufacturing). But this site is also within the Special West Chelsea District, and as with all so-called “special districts” in New York, that means that there is a whole other special set of rules (dictating the use, size and location, of any development, along with other specific regulations and exceptions) that applies to affected properties—on top of the underlying zoning.
The Special West Chelsea District, and more specifically Sub-area C of the Special District in which the Moutons are located, does indeed establish special bulk rules for floor area, building height, street wall location and setback distances; special use rules for ground floor occupancy and location of non-residential uses (in relation to residential uses within the same building); and special sign rules—all of which modify in some way the underlying C6-3 regulations.
As it turns out, because there are no physical changes to the existing building on the site, and even though it is contrary to any number of the special rules referenced above, it is known as a legal, non-complying building. In other words, that structure is “grandfathered” with respect to the Special West Chelsea bulk rules (which were adopted in 2005), and as long as the floor area is not increased and the building is not enlarged, the current owners should have nothing to worry about. As for the current use evident on the property (back to the sheep), we must note that “animal exhibits” (one of the few instances by which the Zoning Resolution acknowledges any form of life besides people) is currently categorized as being in “Use Group 15”, and only permitted in C7 districts. That could be a potential problem, but for now, considering the epoxy-and-bronze make-up of Lalanne’s sheep, we’ll interpret the current use as a commercial art gallery (Use Group 6) and therefore perfectly consistent with the C6-3 zoning.
Keep an eye out on this location over the coming months, as we hear that it may soon turn over to another type of installation. We don’t know how you follow up a sheep’s meadow, but we’ll be ready to review whatever pops up there, to ensure continued compliance with the West Chelsea rules…