By Arthur Z. Schwartz
I am going to keep this simple.
On August 24th, the City Planning Commission had before it a proposal, conditionally recommended by Community Board 2, to allow the construction of a 1,500-unit apartment building in place of the St. John’s Terminal, running south from Leroy Street along West Street. This is a site where the owners could—as of right—build a 50-story hotel or an office building. But they have made a deal, negotiated by the City and City Council Member Corey Johnson. They will build apartments, and pay the Hudson River Park Trust $100 million for the air rights needed to build that project. They have agreed to make 30% of those apartments “affordable,” half of those going to seniors. And they have agreed to give annual funding to the Hudson River Park.
This Project is critical in two ways:
• It will create the funding needed to stop Pier 40 from collapsing; it is in bad shape. It has had patchwork repairs done over the last several years but it is still in bad shape. We have a weak Assembly Member (Glick) who has no juice to get real dollars out of the State, so the sale of air rights is the only viable answer. Already, the developer is funding piling repairs.
• It will create a pocket, just a pocket, of affordable housing in our neighborhood, maybe one with a few Black and Hispanic residents. And maybe it will bring with it a Trader Joe’s and a few affordable services. But our neighborhood keeps getting more and more expensive; living on an island of richer and richer people is not good for us, our community, our families, or our City.
Yes, there are objections. Not enough affordable apartments, say some. It will block “views,” say others, or maybe it will lead to other air rights in the Village. It’s “too big,” say others. But if it is delayed, it may go away.
We learned in mid-September that the developers, Westbrook Partners, are looking for a new development partner for an “office-focused” development as a backup plan. (Crain’s, September 16, 2016.) This is driven by delay. New York’s condo market has too much available and prices are dropping; a long delay would push them to the commercial rather than the residential option.
Could we lose the project? In Sunnyside, on September 19th, plans for a 10-story affordable building went down in flames. In early September, a plan in Inwood got voted down by the City Council. And, of course, we lost St. Vincent’s because of years of delay, caused in part by opposition to its plan to build a new hospital.
The City Planning Commission will vote on this plan by October 17th, and then it will go to the City Council. Tell Council Member Johnson that you want this done—along with a declaration extending the Historic District to the area immediately to the east, which will stop inappropriate development. WE CAN MAKE THE VILLAGE MORE AFFORDABLE!
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader in Greenwich Village.