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NEW YORK CITY-A controversial residential project slated for development in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood won a crucial battle Friday, passing a City Council subcommittee vote despite vehement opposition by a number of neighborhood groups.

What was planned as a 62-story residential tower next to the dilapidated Biltmore Theater at 47th Street and Eighth Avenue has been lopped down to 51 floors with 20% of the units designated as affordable housing. But area residents protested the project vigorously at today’s meeting of the Land Use Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises in an effort to get the developer to agree to drop the building’s height to less than 50 stories.

According to Clinton Special District Coalition president John Fisher, the proposed building by developer Biltmore 47 Associates LLC–a joint venture between Jack Parker Corp. and The Moinian Group–represents another brick in the high-rise wall that developers have planned for Eighth Avenue.

“We’d like to bring the bulk of this building down to something that’s reasonable, something that will not have such a terrible impact on the neighborhood,” Fisher tells GlobeSt.com. “The most important thing is displacement. There’s also neighborhood character, noise, traffic–every building has an impact.”

But the deck was stacked firmly against Fisher and the small contingent of area residents who spoke against the project at Friday’s meeting. With the firm support of District 3 City Councilmember Christine Quinn and the backing of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the project sailed through the subcommittee vote. Zoning committee and full City Council approvals are expected in short order.

The project is a complex cocktail of tax abatements, stacked air rights from the Biltmore and a nearby firehouse, a $20-million restoration of the Biltmore and an 80-20 mix of market-rate and affordable units that qualifies it for a $155 million mortgage from the state’s Housing Finance Agency.

But Fisher says that while his organization is all for affordable housing and supports the Manhattan Theater Club in its partnership with Biltmore 47 to restore the long-shuttered Biltmore, thus affording the prestigious MTC the Broadway theater it needs for Tony Award eligibility, the proposed tower is literally too high a price to pay. He questions the developer’s reluctance to provide neighborhood groups with a price tag for the project despite repeated requests and says that no environmental impact study for the building has been released.

Lobbyist Marty McLaughlin, who represents Biltmore 47, dismisses neighborhood opposition to the project. “They can do whatever they want,” he tells GlobeSt.com. “Our plan is to build 51 stories. The proposal was for 62 stories. We’re doing a $20 million renovation of the theater. We had to renegotiate. We had to reduce the purchase price. We need to build 51 stories.”

Fisher also questions Quinn’s quick acceptance of the developer’s revisions to the project. “They said they would lower the height from 62 to 55 stories. She said OK. My feeling is this is what the developer planned on doing anyway. They know that they’re going to ask for more than they’re going to get.”

But Quinn’s chief of staff, Peter Rider, says the bulk of the neighborhood backs the proposal. “We feel that it’s a fair and appropriate deal for the neighborhood,” Rider tells GlobeSt.com. “We’re very pleased that we’ve gotten the developer to agree to an 80-20 mix and that the height has been lowered from 62 floors to 51. There are also more two-bedroom units than originally planned. The developer also agreed to restrict the size of the commercial space so we’re not going to wind up with a Costco or some other superstore. A lot of people don’t understand the nature or the scope of these negotiations. There are a huge number of issues.

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