Elected officials are voicing opposition to the plan by a real estate developer to privatize more than 4,700 square feet of public amenity space at 200 Water Street. In an October 20 letter to the City Planning Commission, City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough president Gale Brewer wrote that they, “have serious concerns about the equity of the proposal and the design of the plaza upgrades.”
The space in question consists largely of arcades — the columned porticos that adorn the ground-floor facades of more than a dozen Water Street buildings — that would be enclosed to create new retail space at street level, as well as three new market-rate rental apartments at the second floor level, in addition to several hundred square feet of outdoor space on the plaza in front of 200 Water Street, which will be used for a cafe.
“During the 2016 land use review process of the Water Street Text Amendment, Community Board 1 and our offices expressed significant concerns about the merits of granting horizontal enlargements within arcades for which buildings had previously received floor-area bonuses,” Ms. Chin and Ms. Brewer added in their letter. This was a reference to the fact that the arcades at 200 Water Street (along with those in many nearby buildings) were created as a result of zoning regulations in the 1960s and 70s that were intended to encourage builders to add public amenities to their plans, in exchange for which they were permitted to erect taller, bulkier skyscrapers. Critics of the 2016 measure mentioned by Ms. Chin and Ms. Brewer argue that allowing developers to monetize this space now, after they were already compensated by being allowed to construct larger buildings, would mean they were being paid twice.
“Furthermore, the applicant is creating additional residential units,” Ms. Chin and Ms. Brewer added. “In no way was the intention of the Water Street Text Amendments to increase the number of residential units in luxury buildings. We strongly oppose new luxury units — especially those built at the expense of public space.”
Their letter concluded that, “we strongly believe the enclosure of this public space for private commercial use comes at the expense of truly creative approaches and good design. That is why this proposal does not have our support.”
Opposition from Ms. Chin and Ms. Brewer comes in the wake of Community Board 1 (CB1) enacting a resolution in September strongly opposing the plan to enclose arcades at 200 Water Street. This measure said, in part, “CB1 believes the proposed plaza designs are generic, mundane and lack aesthetic vision for this iconic space.” The resolution continued, “there is no adequate compensating amenity to justify enclosing 4,743 square feet of the double height arcade, constructed in return for additional building [floor-area ratio], and converting it to private use by infilling the arcade,” and noted, “the proposed infill of the second level of the arcade with three market-rate apartments contradicts the City’s mission to increase affordable housing in the neighborhood and provides no public benefit.”
The CB1 resolution came on the heels of a chorus of criticism for the 200 Water Street plan from public service organizations dedicated to urban design and civic space, such as the Municipal Art Society and Friends of Privately Own Public Spaces.
Alice Blank, who serves as co-chair of CB1’s Waterfront, Parks & Resiliency Committee and is also a member of its Land Use Committee responded to the letter from Ms. Chin and Ms. Brewer by saying, “our elected leaders are standing up for the preservation of public space by opposing the plan to convert 200 Water Street from a vital and much-needed open public space to for-profit commercial and residential uses.” She called the plan, “a threat, that if left uncorrected, is a precedent that clouds the future of hundreds of other similar public spaces across New York City.”
Anthony Notaro, chair of CB1, said, “we are gratified by the support of Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer. This has become an important issue for our community and much more thought and work needs to take place.”
The next step in the process of determining whether the owners of 200 Water Street can proceed with their plan will be a public hearing before the City Planning Commission (no date has yet been announced), at which the plan will be reviewed. (The public will not have the opportunity to speak at this hearing, but may send comments in advance for the Commissioner’s review.) At a separate meeting, now projected to take place in November, the Commission will vote on to approve or reject the project.