Community Board Votes Against Seaport Project

Message of opposition is first step in city’s formal land use process, which goes next to Brewer’s office

| 02 Aug 2021 | 08:52

The members of Community Board 1 sent a strong message of opposition against the Howard Hughes Corporation’s plan to build a 324-foot residential tower in the South Street Seaport Historic District, passing a resolution disapproving of the $850 million project.

“CB1 fully opposes this extremely complex and convoluted package of zoning actions intended to upzone this site to allow for the proposed oversized building at 250 Water Street,” the resolution stated.

The vote on the resolution was the first step in the city’s formal Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which is required for projects wanting to build outside of a site’s zoning designation. Drawn up by SOM Designs, the development will consist of both market-rate (270 units) and affordable (70 units) housing and stand 200 feet taller than what the rest of the buildings in the low-rise historic district. The issue will go to the Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office next, and she has spoken in support for the project in the past.

The community board, however, has strongly opposed the project since it was introduced last November. The majority of the members feel deeply that the project is out of scale with the neighborhood, where the tallest building is 108 feet. Additionally, they feel that HHC created a false choice that by promising a now-undecided amount of funding for the struggling South Street Seaport museum – which has remained closed since Hurricane Sandy – if the developer is able to build the residential tower.

The board said as much in the resolution.

“The proposed development would undermine years of carefully crafted zoning regulations meant to guide orderly growth of the Seaport through modifications proposed by HHC which reconfigure the rules to advance a private, profit-driven agenda,” the board stated in the resolution.

There was discussion among members on whether it would be more advantageous for the board to pass a regulation that still expressed its oppositions, but also listed changes it would like to be seen made if the project does indeed make it all the way through the ULURP process. A few members feared that by issuing a flat-out “No,” the board would be shut out of the decision-making process down the road. Others were sympathetic to that point of view, but felt that it was necessary that the board took a hard stance to communicate how deeply it disapproves of the project’s height.

In a statement, a spokesperson from HHC said the developer appreciate the board’s feedback on the project.

“[The project’s] supporters recognize the urgent need to transform the parking lot at 250 Water Street into a nearly billion-dollar investment that includes the wealthy area’s most significant affordable housing in decades and provides critical funding for the South Street Seaport Museum – all as the neighborhood and city focus on post-pandemic recovery,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to continuing the land-use review process over the coming months.”

Public Arguments

The public were able to speak on the project before the board took its vote. The arguments remained the same as they have been since the debate on the issue began, with supporters saying the project would bring to the neighborhood badly-needed affordable housing, more business and prosperity while making use of a parcel that currently functions as a parking lot, and many feel is a blight to the community. Also, the partnership with HHC, they said, would bring financial stability to the museum.

The project has already won over the approval of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which must sign off on development plotted for historic districts. But the venture is still a complicated one, as the developer must also transfer air-rights from Pier 17 and the Tin Building sites that HHC controls through a long-term lease in order to build beyond the 120-foot zoning limit.

Brewer will likely hold a public hearing of her own on the project, and then issue a recommendation to the City Planning Commission. Neither Brewer nor the community board have the power to stop the project, but the CPC could with a vote to reject the application by a majority vote of its members.

City Council approval is a key step in the land use process, but since District 1 Council Member Margaret Chin supports the project, the rest of the members are likely to follow her on the vote. Chin’s likely successor, Christopher Marte – who won the Democratic primary in June – however, opposes the project, and testified against it at Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s just not the structure itself, but this development process that demonstrates how Howard Hughes wants exception to every rule, and to move forward with this project no matter the cost to their neighbors,” Marte said.

HHC will want the process to move quickly and be resolved before Chin’s term ends at the end of the year.