This community needs affordable housing. This community needs places where seniors can live with some amenities. This community needs athletic fields, and it needs $100 million to go into Pier 40 to keep it from falling down. And, somehow, we need to get all of this without being overrun by luxury development.
Over the last month, our community has taken major strides in this direction. With a good balance of pressure from preservationists, open-space advocates, and Hudson River Park adherents, the plan to redevelop St. John’s Terminal into housing—30% of which will be “affordable”, with half of that for seniors—is about to come to fruition. And in its wake, $100 million will be released to repair Pier 40, and the remainder of the South Village, the area just east of St. John’s Terminal, will receive landmark protection. A plan envisioned in a column in this paper, two years ago, has come to pass.
Let’s look back over the last month.
Changes to the plan: On September 30, 2016, the St. John’s developers notified the City Planning Commission (CPC) that they wanted to make some changes. First, they were abandoning the idea of locating a big-box store. Instead, they would put four retail stores on the north and south sides of West Houston and three on Clarkson. They agreed to eliminate an elevated park running over West Houston, opening up that street to sunlight for the first time in over 100 years. And they agreed to add a 10,000-square-foot indoor recreational space at the ground floor level—with 50% of operating hours available to the public.
Then, on October 17, 2016, the City Planning Commission voted to approve the project. Carl Weisbrod, the CPC Chair, said, “Rarely do we see applications with the potential to achieve so many goals that are meaningful to such a very large range of stakeholders.” The next step is the City Council.
On October 20, 2016 (thanks, in my opinion, to City Council Member Corey Johnson), the Landmarks Preservation Commission released a plan to add 10 blocks to the South Village Historic District. The new area, which includes 170 buildings, will be bounded by Sixth Avenue, West 4th Street, LaGuardia Place, and Houston Street. This designation means that whatever development might flow out of the St. John’s development will be prevented from pushing into the South Village.
The next step will be a November 1st hearing before a City Council Committee and a vote, soon thereafter, by the full City Council.
There have been efforts to block this project unless the City pledges to stop the further sale of air rights from Hudson River Park, no matter what the project. But this project continues to be a win-win. The real fight now is to match affordable housing with affordable stores, like a Trader Joe’s or a Pathmark, and maybe even space for a new school.
Affordable housing in the Village. Just imagine.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village.