By Brian J. Pape
Manhattan Borough President (MBP) Gale Brewer spoke at the City Planning Commission’s public hearing for 550 Washington (a.k.a. St. John’s Terminal building) Rezoning on August 24, 2016. She critically called for major alterations to the proposed rezoning, which would allow about 1,500 new apartments.
Ms. Brewer called for rejection of the proposed Pier 40’s rezoning, special permits, and the Hudson River Park Special District, unless changes include:
- Restrictions against any further air rights transfers from the Hudson River Park into the Community Board 2 area.
- Eliminating most of the parking spaces provided.
- Increasing the affordable unit component to more than 25% of total units.
- Providing more community and cultural space at low or no fees.
- Elimination of ‘Big Box’ stores and ‘destination’ retail; retail should be limited to supermarkets and locally-oriented stores.
- More at-grade open public space should be planned, instead of higher level spaces.
- Complete removal of the train tracks over Houston Street, for open-to-sky streets.
- Senior housing units larger than the studios proposed.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and many others called for Landmark protections for the entire remaining segment of the proposed South Village Historic District, before or concurrently, with any approvals for changes to zoning rules for the St. John’s site.
The 2013 amendment to the Hudson River Park Act of 1998 authorizes the HRP Trust to transfer air rights to properties up to one block east of park boundaries, if permitted by local zoning ordinances—which they do not permit. A Special Hudson River Park District must be invented into law; this seems to be in direct conflict with the Clean Water Act.
As-of-right, the developer could build a 438-room hotel, office, and retail building of 48 stories (approximately 630 feet) on the North (of Houston) Site, plus big box stores at the south sites, with no residential allowed. It’s not a pretty picture, and that’s the leverage they can use to get a bigger, and perhaps more appealing, development.
The new legislation creates a sea change of what development will be allowed for all waterfronts throughout the city; the limitations of developing in the water can be ignored for the purpose of calculating total development rights. It redefines “unused development rights” for anything built or unbuilt over waterways and allows piers to sell those air rights if they are zoned commercial, and every pier was originally a commercial pier. Will it apply even if they are only degraded piling fields?
This also changes the law that once limited transferring air rights only to surrounding (touching) properties. You can now transfer air rights from anywhere on land or water, to anywhere else—you don’t need to be touching anymore!
Even if opponents manage to limit the particular rezoning for Pier 40, other developers and administrations would be able to use the new definitions to claim development rights on all waterfronts, and start applying the new definitions to the entire city and beyond.
At each step in this process, changes to the plan can be requested. The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the proposal by October 17th; then the City Council can make more changes before final approval.