By Brian J. Pape
To quote a beloved Yogi-ism: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
At a heated Community Board 2 public hearing on April 18th, the CB2 response to elected officials’ request to change the Hudson River Park (HRP) Act of 1998 was discussed, specifically regarding possible legislation to allow development of commercial offices at Pier 40 and enumerating its limits on building height, the square footage to allow, length of leases, and minimum park space requirements. The initial law creating HRP was deeply flawed, perhaps due to the contentious nature of changing the dying waterfront and lack of funds. The Act stated, “It is in the public interest to encourage park uses and allow limited park/commercial uses.”
This hearing had elements of the same debate publicly conducted in 1998 (plus several times since 2001), as some factions want commercial development everywhere, even on the water. And the desire for more funding never diminishes, even after the recent $100 million infusion promised to be used for Pier 40 renovations to piles and infrastructure problems.
In Pier 40’s Hudson Square neighborhood, multiple new luxury residential towers have been developed; more than six million square feet of offices are under development, including almost one million at 550 Washington Street.
No one argues that more active recreation space isn’t needed, but that’s true for the entire length of the park, not just at Houston Street. About half the speakers at the hearing pleaded to save the Village Community Boathouse, while the other half pleaded to increase the ballfields for various youth clubs; these uses are not incompatible. CB2 was initially promised that 80% of Pier 40 would be for public park uses; we only got about 50%, and the community and CB2 are still trying to get more of that space back. Do we have to destroy Pier 40 in order to save the recreation space?
Why is the focus only on Pier 40, when the entire park is affected by the Act? The HRP Trust has completed 72% of the entire park construction, which gets funding from state and other government agencies, including for the recent repair of the shoreline wall just north of Pier 40. Planning for the 5.5 acre Gansevoort Peninsula includes active sports; shouldn’t the entire site get playing fields? Or, alternatively, isn’t that site of former city utility buildings more appropriate for another building project than building over water?
If more income-producing uses are needed, why not look at all sites? Where is the income production from the new Pier 55? The Meatpacking District’s historic Pier 57 has a private developer creating a commerce market with restaurants, food events areas, and cultural and educational uses; how will this help pay for Pier 40? Commercial office building on Pier 40 is clearly contrary to the purpose of the Act. If the Act must be changed to address its shortcomings, then look at the entire scope of HRP, not just Pier 40.
Remember, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Brian J. Pape, a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board and is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee.