Landmarks Panel Approves Howard Hughes Proposal for Scaled-Back Tower at Seaport Site
The full-block parking lot at 250 Water Street, which Howard Hughes Corporations hopes to develop, where an environmental cleanup is underway to remove toxins such as mercury and lead.
The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on Tuesday approved a proposal by the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) to erect a large building at 250 Water Street, a 1.1-acre parking lot bounded by Pearl, Beekman, and Water Streets, as well as Peck Slip. This site has been the focus of debate, speculation, and controversy since HHC’s purchase of the lot from Milstein Properties for $180 million, in 2018.
Initial concepts for 250 Water Street included a tower nearly 1,000 feet tall, which sparked vigorous criticism. But the first detailed version of the proposed development, unveiled in January, called for a pair of towers, reaching 470 feet high and enclosing 757,000 square feet. This variant featured 360 residential units, including 100 affordable apartments. That plan was rejected by the LPC (which must sign off on any development, because 250 Water Street sits within the South Street Seaport Historic District), because its height and mass were deemed inappropriate.
HHC came back before the Commission in April, with a scaled-down proposal, featuring four connected blocks of buildings that reached no higher than 345 feet, enclosed 550,000 square feet, and included 270 residential units (70 of them set aside as affordable). The LPC similarly declined to approve this plan, but members of the panel told HHC representatives that they were getting closer to a design the Commission could live with.
A third version of the proposed development came before the LPC on Tuesday, incorporating a further reduction in 20 feet of height, and 10,000 square feet of interior space, with the same number of market-rate and affordable units as contained in the April plan. The Commission voted (six to two) to approve this iteration.
Saul Scherl, HHC’s president for the New York tri-state region reacted by saying, “we appreciate the LPC’s thoughtful feedback and are gratified that the Commissioners have deemed our 250 Water Street proposal appropriate for the Seaport Historic District. We worked hard to produce a design that is responsive to the Commission’s comments and preserves the project’s crucial benefits: deeply affordable housing in one of the City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, and meaningful funding for the South Street Seaport Museum, the heart of the Historic District. The broad array of community residents, preservationists, elected officials, architects, cultural organizations, local business owners and nonprofit leaders who support our project agree that the Seaport’s best days are ahead and that this project will play a vital role in New York City’s inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery.”
A rendering showing the proposed building’s perspective from Pearl Street
HHC estimates that the project will generate more than $1.8 billion in economic impact for the City and State, while creating more than 2,000 permanent jobs and roughly the same number of temporary, construction jobs.
The Seaport Coalition, an all-volunteer community-based organization that opposes the HHC plan, responded, “the LPC turned its back on its mandate to protect Historic Districts from overdevelopment in finding ‘appropriate’ the dramatically out-of-scale building proposed by the HHC. The LPC ignored nine precedents from their predecessors who found that earlier proposed buildings for this site on this scale would ‘overwhelm and destroy,’ the low-scale character of the District.”
The LPC’s ruling enables the Howard Hughes proposal to move further in the approvals process, but the plan’s future is far from assured. It will next begin the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) required for disposition of publicly owned land. This will be necessary because the HHC plan calls for buildings far in excess of the 120-foot height allowed by prevailing zoning. These restrictions can be legally bypassed, however, by transferring unused air rights from nearby properties. Specifically, HHC plans to move these unused rights from Pier 17 and the Tin Building, which are publicly owned sites that the company has leased from the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC)—a non-profit entity that negotiates strategic partnerships on behalf of City Hall, designed to harness private-sector resources to public projects, and thus foster economic growth. It was the EDC that leased large tracts of City-owned land in the Seaport neighborhood to HHC, designating the firm to lead a planned transformation of the historic community.
Finally, HHC will have to reckon with ongoing community opposition. The company points out that the LPC received more than 700 letters in support of its proposal in advance of Tuesday’s hearing. The Seaport Coalition counters that prior hearings spurred 8,700 petition signatures, 140 speakers in opposition, and more than 500 letters.
The Coalition argues that, “the LPC’s action changes the ground rules for historic preservation in New York City by accepting a tradeoff of funding for the South Street Seaport Museum and a small number of affordable housing units as grounds for finding this building appropriate. This demonstrates to developers that there is a price at which the LPC will allow something clearly alien to the district, and that offers of amenities to the neighborhood will be allowed to override preservation concerns embedded in the Landmarks Law.”
A view from the Brooklyn Bridge of the new development that Howard Hughes Corporation plans for 250 Water Street.
“Ironically,” they continue, “it is the low scale of the South Street Seaport Historic District that makes this play so lucrative for the developer. They will benefit immensely from the spectacular views afforded by the enforcement of height limits in the rest of the district while getting a free pass.”
Local critics were able to scuttle a 2013 plan from HHC for a 50-story tower on the site of the nearby New Market Building, and have in the years since been vociferous in the opposition to other development plans floated by HHC. In November, 2019, Community Board 1 (CB1) enacted a resolution that, “reiterates our very strong support for retaining the existing zoning in the Seaport Historic District, which ensures that new buildings maintain the low-scale character of this very special area.”
HHC’s plan for 250 Water Street has nonetheless attracted a slew of endorsements. Former CB1 chair Catherine McVay Hughes says, “at a time when New York City is under so much stress from the pandemic and the economic downturn, this project is an exciting vote of confidence in the future, bringing affordable housing—a top priority for our community for many years—as well as long-term viability for the Seaport Historic District and Museum, and critical brownfield remediation, while removing a surface parking lot with legacy fossil-fuel infrastructure that has been an eyesore and a drag on community redevelopment for decades.”
Former CB1 vice chair Paul Hovitz says, “as a longtime resident of Southbridge Towers and someone who has been active in the community for decades, this exciting new plan is the first to incorporate a viable fiscal support mechanism for our cherished South Street Seaport Museum, the cultural center of this historic neighborhood. With a design appropriate to its upland location, this proposal will create a safe, more unified pedestrian experience for those of us who live nearby. And critically, it will bring the first mandatory affordable housing to CB1.”
Jessica Lappin, president of the Downtown Alliance, says, “the parking lot at 250 Water has long been a void, but also an opportunity: to invest in our local economy, to create jobs, and to build sorely needed affordable housing in CB1. The development proposed for the site is an opportunity that needs close and serious consideration. This plan would also bring stability to the South Street Seaport Museum, one of the area’s essential cultural institutions.”
HHC’s best chance in the upcoming ULURP process may be that the plan is supported by City Council member Margaret Chin, because the municipal legislature wields effective veto power over ULURP applications, and usually defers to the member in whose district a proposed project is located. (Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also supports the plan.)
But not all elected officials are on board. State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou says, “it’s disingenuous that HHC claims that their proposal has been shaped by elected officials and community engagement, when no formal plan has ever been presented to us for input. Every iteration of potential designs has violated the zoning limits, design guidelines, and principles agreed to by a coalition of elected officials, community organizations, and stakeholders. This plan is no different. Most importantly, it violates the 120 feet height limitation that HHC has been reminded of and ignored, time and time again.”
Ms. Niou continues, “HHC needs to come back to the community for more engagement and actually listen to create a plan that meets the needs of our community. And this current plan neither includes a large enough percentage of affordable housing, nor does it provide deeply affordable housing that matches the need we see in our community. This proposal, in its current form, is a non-starter and is not what our community needs.”
And the Seaport Coalition vows to, “continue to fight this inappropriate project [and] to reject this corporate greed and over-reach, by protecting one of our national treasures. We are looking at litigation and working with an attorney to that end. The formation of the team is in progress.”
Local Public High Schools Perform Well in National Rankings
The U.S. News & World Report has issued its annual national rankings of high schools, and several local secondary institutions, either located in Lower Manhattan or else attended by large numbers of students from this community, have earned favorable mention.
Stuyvesant High School, located in Battery Park City, was deemed to rank number 44 among all secondary schools in the United States, and seventh among all New York City public high schools. Reviewers noted that Stuyvesant has a graduation rate of 99 percent, that 100 percent of its students are proficient in math and reading, and that 88 percent of pupils there passed at least one advanced placement exam. To read more…
To the editor,
I have lived in the FiDi district since 1994. Needless to say, there have been many changes to the neighborhood. Not all of them welcome, though.
The noise is a growing concern, but the noise issue has exploded this Spring, as outdoor dining, much needed, has ignored any consideration for the people who live in the area.
One side of my building faces Stone Street where a number of restauarants encourage a party-like atmosphere that attracts scores of people from far and wide to join in the excitement.
Thursday to Saturday evenings are the big nights that attract crowds who come to the area via car service and taxis. The streets of Fidi are tiny and traffic jams are inevitable. The cars honk from 7pm til the restaurants close. During the time the restaurants are in full gear, the patrons empty in to The Queen Elizabeth Garden Memorial to British subjects lives lost in 911. The memorial park has been abused and damaged.
However, apartments facing the park are abused with noise of boisterous inebriated patrons from the restaurants, along with the honking continually for hours.Some of my neighbors and myself have filed 311 noise complaints. The police come to the park, then drive away. Excessive noise is a quality of life issue and a health issue.
We want the businesses to do well, but we want their respectful attention to the quality of life for the people who live in the area.
It is vital that people report the excessive noise to 311 and file a report. Even though it currently feels like a pointless drill, it is not. The Community Board needs these reports so that we can find a solution for both business owners and residents.
Lower Manhattan Resident Charged with Defrauding Millions from Pandemic Loan Program
A resident of the Financial District has been arrested in connection with what federal prosecutors describe as a $5.8-million scheme to defraud the paycheck protection program (PPP), the federal loans given to small businesses hurt by the economic slowdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marcus Frazier, who resides at 19 Dutch Street, was taken into custody on Wednesday morning. Federal prosecutors allege that he filed for almost $6 million in PPP loans, and actually received approximately $2.17 million, based on these applications. To read more…
CLASSIFIEDS & PERSONALS
Swaps & Trades, Respectable Employment, Lost and Found
Explore the diversity of migrating birds that find food and habitat in The Battery. The walk will be led by Gabriel Willow, an educator from NYC Audubon. Gabriel is an experienced birder and naturalist, and is well-versed in the ecology and history of New York City. He has been leading walks for NYC Audubon for more than ten years, guiding new and experienced birders in all five boroughs and beyond. Participants are limited to fewer than 15 people. RSVP is required for participation. Free
Each week features a fantastic family music performer from our star roster leading rocking storytimes and sing-a-longs! Masks required. Participants must maintain six feet of physical distance between households. All programs will be held in accordance with New York State reopening guidance. Battery Park City Authority Free
Elements of Nature Drawing
Wagner Park, with its amazing gardens and views of the Hudson River and New York Bay, is the perfect setting to practice your art. Participants are expected to bring their own drawing and painting supplies, including drawing boards and containers of water if they are planning to paint. BPCA will supply drawing paper and watercolor paper only. Masks required. Participants must maintain six feet of physical distance between households. All programs will be held in accordance with New York State reopening guidance. Battery Park City Authority Free
Online concert. During trying times, music stills our souls and provides a healing grace. Throughout the season of Lent, Comfort at One will present performances that are inspired by the Gandhi quote: “In the midst of darkness, light persists.” These concerts include improvisations by Julian Wachner, light-inspired Bach cantatas, our 2014 Lenten “Lamentatio” series featuring NOVUS NY and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, new performances from the Trinity Youth Chorus and St. Paul’s Chapel Choir, and new virtual content on Fridays from our extended family of artists.
Get moving with a series of classes aimed to help you build strength, relax, and unwind. All cardio classes are 45 minutes long, with a focus on high-intensity rhythmic cardio. Classes also feature sprint intervals, sculpting, and a stretch cool down. Free
1) Introduction to Maureen Murphy and Andrew Eick at Brookdale
2) Brookfield Updates on Activating the Upper Plaza and Seating at the Winter Garden – Alex Liscio, Senior Vice President for Asset Management, Brookfield Properties, Stephanie Blake, CEO, Skylight Studios, Chelsea Mullen, Director of Strategy , Skylight Studios, and Grace Bunn, VP of Operations, Skylight Studios
3) Reviewing BPCA Finances – Discussion
4) Setting Committee Goals for Affordability and Predictability in Battery Park City – Discussion & Resolution
Namaste! Unwind from the day with outdoor yoga. Immerse yourself in this meditative practice- surrounded by the Hudson’s peaceful aura. Strengthen the body and cultivate awareness in a relaxed environment as your instructor guides you through alignments and poses. All levels are welcome. Participants are expected to bring their own equipment: yoga mat, yoga blocks, water, etc. Masks required. Participants must maintain six feet of physical distance between households. All programs will be held in accordance with New York State reopening guidance. Free Battery Park City Authority
A year since China opened up its financial markets on paper, have foreign firms been able to grab a bigger slice of its $48 trillion financial sector businesses? What does China’s deepening of financial integration into the world mean for the country and U.S. institutions? How do U.S. financial sanctions impact China’s financial regulatory reform? Andrew Collier, founder of Orient Capital Research, and Li-Gang Liu, Chief China Economist at Citi Group, which has recently been approved to become the first US custody bank in China, will discuss the new opportunities and challenges for foreign ownership in China. Free
BPCA Prepares Preliminary Steps to Implement South End Avenue Plan
The Battery Park City Authority offered an update on its plans to reconfigure South End Avenue and West Thames Street. This project envisions narrowing both South End Avenue and West Thames Street, while widening nearby sidewalks, and relocating several bus stops.
Board chair Tammy Meltzer began the discussion by noting that CB1, “passed resolutions and had dialogue about South End Avenue going back five years. It’s been very long time that we’ve been waiting for capital improvements on South End Avenue,” in a reference to the BPCA’s presentation about its budget, offered at the April 7 meeting.
BPCA president B.J. Jones replied, “we do have a line item for South End Avenue for this year, to kick the design and engineering into gear. And you’re right, Tammy. We have talked and spent a lot of time with that effort. And it is time that we get started.” To read more…
The Downtown Alliance, in partnership with The Tank and En Garde Arts, will present a live, free outdoor performance festival in Lower Manhattan on the weekends of May 15/16 and May 22/23.
Three open-air venues (Four New York Plaza, where a covered loading dock will become a stage; the 85 Broad Street arcade, adjacent to Stone Street; and One Battery Park Plaza, featuring with views of New York Harbor) will host performances from noon to 8:00 pm. Participating artists include multiple Obie Award and Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as emerging voices, such as playwright/actress Kaaron Briscoe; playwright/actor David Greenspan; hip-hop, spoken word and performance artists Baba Israel and Grace Galu; and popular downtown music and storytelling duo James and Jerome. Tickets are free, but required—and must be reserved in advance for social distancing and pandemic precautions. To R.S.V.P., please browse: TheTankNYC.org and/or EnGardeArts.org
Ars Gratia Artis
The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) is offering 18 free arts classes for older adults, with offerings ranging from a Japanese dance workshop to memoir writing. The organization has enlisted more than a dozen professional artists, working across a broad range of disciplines, oversee creative-aging projects for Downtown seniors. The classes are offered through June 30, and all are remote and free to attend. No previous experience is required, and art materials are provided. The series includes dance and movement, music, theater and storytelling, visual arts and writing and literature. For more information, or to sign up, please browse: https://lmcc.net/resources/artist-residencies/su-casa/
Much Ado about Nutten
Governors Island Opens New Season Packed with Attractions and Events
The 172-acre island off Lower Manhattan that was called Nutten by British settlers in the colonial era, but which we know as Governors Island, kicked off its 2021 season on Saturday, May 1, with a broad range of programs and offerings.
Hammock Grove offers lounging, accompanied by a new herd of sheep brought in to control invasive flora. Kids will delight in the nearby Hammock Grove Play Area, along with the water feature at Liggett Terrace, and Slide Hillʼs collection of helter skelter-esqe winding descents. Thrill seekers of all ages may wish to check out Adventures at Governors Island, which, for a fee, offers a 300-foot zip line and climbing wall. To read more…
The Battery Park City Authority asks that the public not interact with or feed the urban wildlife in the neighborhood’s parks and green spaces, and at the waterfront.
Downtown Non-Profit Sues to Halt Arrest for Minor Offenses
A non-profit based in Lower Manhattan is suing the New York Police Department and the City to halt the practice of arresting people accused of low-level offenses, such as administrative violations and infractions, misdemeanors, and some class-E felonies.
The Legal Aid Society, headquartered at 199 Water Street, filed suit on April 14 in New York State Supreme Court, on behalf of multiple plaintiffs who were arrested and detained on minor offenses during the demonstrations that convulsed Lower Manhattan last summer, following the death of George Floyd in police custody in May.
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.