Being Vigilant about the View

The Howard Hughes Corporation plans to build a large new restaurant under the FDR Drive, near the intersection of John and South Streets, in the South Street Seaport neighborhood. At its January 22 meeting, Community Board 1 (CB1) debated two resolutions to authorize this proposal.

The first resolution, which considered whether to grant the new establishment (provisionally named “the Blockhouse”) a liquor license. Jeff Ehrlich, who chairs CB1’s Licensing and Permits Committee, began the discussion by noting, “this new structure under the FDR Drive. The application says it used to be a semi-covered structure. It also said they will not require other permits from different City agencies.”

This claim was contradicted by Paul Goldstein, who chairs CB1’s Waterfront, Parks and Cultural Committee. He said, “they need approval from the Public Design Commission,” the agency that reviews permanent works of architecture, landscape architecture, and art proposed for City-owned property. (The land beneath the FDR Drive is publicly owned.)

CB1 chair Anthony Notaro said, “the big issue here is that this may obstruct a view corridor on John Street,” referring to the vista through which pedestrians blocks away from the waterfront can view the East River, and the ships docked along the adjacent section of its waterfront.

Roger Byrom, who chairs CB1’s Landmarks and Preservation Committee, emphasized this concern, insisting that, “it does obstruct those view corridors.”

Susan Cole, who chairs CB1’s Licensing and Permits Committee, said, “maybe we should reject the liquor license until this is addressed.”

Alice Blank, chair of CB1’s Environmental Protection Committee, raised a related issue, focusing on the size of the proposed building. “What’s there now, which was never really presented very clearly in any of these meetings, is a storage building of a few hundred square feet, which contains two bathrooms, and a small pop-up shop that sold ice cream. What’s really being proposed is a new, 3,050-square-foot structure. This is entirely new.”

According to documents filed with the City, the proposed restaurant will have a 2,290-square-foot dining area with 30 tables and 85 chairs, along a 700-plus square foot bar area with 26 seats.

Laura Starr, who sits on CB1’s Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, as well as its Environmental Protection Committee, said, “I don’t understand why a new building is coming to us through the Licensing Committee, when it should be through the Land Use Committee. Why are talking about a liquor license?”

After this discussion, CB1 enacted a resolution recommending that the State Liquor Authority grant the new establishment a liquor license, subject to multiple conditions, such a limits on noise, operating hours, and seating capacity.

Later at the same meeting, CB1 considered a second resolution related to the same proposal, this one weighing the Blockhouse’s application for approval from the Public Design Commission.

Mr. Goldstein noted that this second measure contained, “very clear language citing our concerns about view corridor on John Street.”

Mr. Notaro reiterated that, “obstructing that view corridor is a non-starter.”

Mr. Byrom proposed to strengthen the resolution by phrasing it as a recommendation that the Public Design Commission reject the Blockhouse application unless it was modified to address CB1’s concerns.

Ms. Cole echoed this proposal, saying, “let’s be stronger.”

Ms. Blank raised a broader concern, noting that, “with all of this construction going under the FDR, it’s a new no-man’s land where we’re setting a precedent. This is the second proposal for a new pavilion. But there doesn’t seem to be any kind of zoning review. Somebody just comes in and says, “I’m building a restaurant.'”

Asked what the Howard Hughes Corporation would need to do to bring its proposal into compliance with CB1’s second resolution and avoid obstructing views along John Street, Mr. Goldstein answered, “they will have to shrink the size of the restaurant, and build a smaller facility.”

CB1 then voted to enact the second measure, which also calls for funds generated by the project to be earmarked for maintenance of local parks along the East River Esplanade.
Matthew Fenton

Comments

  1. M.H. Jones says

    The “cart before the horse” or in this case the “liquor license before the building” approach is HH’s newest tactic to purposefully obfuscate the checks and balances of new development. As the scheme goes, if one city agency approves a seemingly benign request (liquor license), other agencies simply follow suit and grant permits and variances with a false impression that the overall project must have been green lighted somewhere along the way. The CB1 should be commended for catching and flagging this underhanded tactic.
    How can Howard Hughes apply for a liquor license for an establishment that does not exist? *Especially* in a place that requires the special oversight mentioned in the piece? These are the same tactics being used to get ahead of the laws that protect the South Street Seaport’s Historic District. Currently HH is asking for permission to clean a site w/o a plan for ANY development being submitted to the city. HH has openly admitted they want a 60 (maybe more) story tower where currently a 12 story limit exists. If city allows HH to open the ground before they’ve gotten the proper variances, you’ve opened the door to all of HH’s tricks.

  2. Betty Reeder says

    As an annual visitor to NYC, I am so happy with actions pertaining to the HH situation. This area is so historic; dating back to George Washington’s arrival in mid 1700 .

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