By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Can a Bernie Sanders-supporting progressive activist lawyer also champion a billion dollar development project?
The answer is yes.
As WestView readers know, I am running for the Assembly seat that includes the West Village, Soho, and Tribeca. And I have made it clear that I am a supporter of the St. John’s Terminal rebuild and the pumping of $100 million into Pier 40. I view this project as a microcosm (or, given its size, a macrocosm) of the differences I have with our incumbent representative.
After 30 years of community service, I have developed an informed perspective on devevlopment projects. I believe that there are three kinds of projects:
The “No, No, No” Type. These projects have no merit and need to be stopped. For example, the Costco that the State Economic Development Corporation wanted to put on 14th Street to replace the old armory. I filed suit to stop that and the project went away. We now have a YMCA and faculty apartments for nearby schools.
The “Do the Best We Can” Type. These projects have little merit (like the NYU rebuild, with its hotels and office structures which go far beyond its needs), but can be built mostly as of right. On those, we must work around the edges and get what we can, like community amenities, lower heights, and plaza space.
The “Great Potential” Type. These projects have some problems but, if embraced, can be turned into community assets.
No project is perfect, except, perhaps, the construction of a public school. (Remember how the plan to rebuild St. Vincent’s, a critical project, was delayed for years due to community opposition to its height? The delay killed the hospital.)
I have always seen Hudson River Park as a “Great Potential” project. When Assemblymember Glick fought the park plan, I worked with others in our community (including current CB2 Chair Tobi Bergman) to embrace it. We sued for a ball field on Pier 40 before there was a park. We won and brought people to the Pier to create a constituency for the park, participated in drafting the legislation creating the park, pushed it to a vote over the Assemblymember’s objection, and sat through scores of meetings critiquing and arguing to change the uses on each pier, choosing light fixtures, signage, benches, and fencing. (We fought to have, and won, a water-based playground at Horatio Street, a dog run at Leroy Street, and grass on Piers 45 and 46.)
Now we are being handed a proposal to build housing in place of the old, ugly St. John’s Terminal, in a deserted and dangerous corner of the West Village, across from Pier 40. My approach? Embrace it, support it, and make it better. Fighting it will get us two “as of right” condo towers. Corey Johnson, our City Council Member, embraced it and brought back $100 million for Pier 40 (plus perpetual repair funds), 25% affordable rental housing in the two buildings, half of that “senior housing,” and some height restrictions. Some more massaging, from a position of support, not opposition, could get us:
• Affordable shopping (which we don’t have in the Village).
• A healthcare facility (which doesn’t exist south of 12th Street).
• Landmarking of the “South Village” area directly to the east.
• A bigger dog run.
• Funding for a waterfront LGBT youth center on the waterfront.
• A school or a preschool.
Yes, it will be a “tall” building (though nowhere near as tall as the monstrous structures north of 23rd Street), but it will save Pier 40 and provide millions of dollars per year for the perpetual care of Hudson River Park.
It’s time to end negativity in the Village. It’s time for creative, positive, and constructive approaches to our neighborhood’s problems. Twenty-four years of negativity didn’t stop St. Vincent’s from going down, didn’t stop NYU from taking over the South Village, and didn’t stop the over-gentrification of the West Village.
As they say—Time for a Change You Can Believe In!
(An Update: A scoping document for the project has been issued but preparations, including drawings and studies needed for the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Process) hearings, have not been completed. Community Board and other public hearings about the project are a few months away. Stay tuned.)
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader in Greenwich Village.