In Blow To Community Opposition, South Seaport Tower Is Ok’d By Appeals Court Ruling

A new twenty-five story tower located in the South Street Seaport area can move forward with construction, after an appeals court overturned a lower court decision blocking the project. The Landmarks Preservation Commission had initially given the project a green light with a “certificate of appropriateness” that was tossed by the lower court ruling.

| 13 Jun 2023 | 03:02

In a victory for Howard Hughes Corp., their behemoth twenty-five story residential tower in downtown Manhattan is expected to move forward with construction after a favorable appeals court ruling.

The project was initially halted after a successful lawsuit by opposition group Seaport Coalition in October of 2022, prompting Judge Arthur Engoron to issue an injunction on the project.

Now, in a demoralizing blow to stalwart critics of the project such as the Seaport Coalition, the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the project can move forward. This all but confirms that the twenty-five story skyscraper will loom over Pier 17, in a location that the Landmarks Preservation Committee had prevented from being developed for decades until the Hughes Corp.’s successful bid to change their minds in May of 2021. A surprise approval for the project from the Landmarks Preservation Committee occurred by the end of 2021, which galvanized some community activists to file the suit to try and block it.

A central element of the Seaport Coalition’s lawsuit centered around $40 million in funding that the Howard Hughes Corp. promised to infuse into the South Street Seaport Museum, which was intended as a community-minded corollary to building the tower. The nonprofit Seaport Coalition’s mission statement reads in part that “The [South Street Seaport] Historic District’s low-scale architecture should be respected and celebrated without changes in the current zoning.” This predictably encompasses the South Seaport Museum. In their lawsuit, the Coalition alleged that the additional museum funding was a quid-pro-quo from Howard Hughes Corp. to the Landmarks Preservation Committee to earn a certificate of approval for the tower.

In Engoron’s ruling condemning the project and ordering an injunction, he all but validated the Coalition’s rationale, stating that “in the final analysis, the citizens of New York City are entitled to feel confident that a controversial, counterintuitive decision to allow a skyscraper to be built in a low-rise historic district, after repeated decisions disallowing such a structure, and without a coherent explanation, was made solely on the merits, and not because of a quid- pro-quo, even one with the laudable purpose of museum funding.”

The new appellate ruling rejects this argument entirely. The court also disagreed with some of the phrasing of the lawsuit that swayed Judge Engoron, saying that the approval of the building “was not arbitrary and capricious or irrational.”

In a statement applauding the appeals court ruling, Howard Hughes Corp.’s New York Region Co-President Zach Winick said: “We are gratified by the court’s decision, which confirms what we have maintained all along: the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval of our project was proper and made in full compliance with the Landmarks Law.”

The South Seaport Tower is projected to stand up to 324 ft. tall and will contain 399 housing units. 100 of these units are intended to be affordable and family-oriented, with 90 of those 100 being priced at 40 percent of the area’s median income (roughly equal to $50,840 for a family of three) and the remaining ten priced at 120 percent of the AMI (roughly $152,520 for a family of three).

As of presstime, the Seaport Coalition had not commented on the appeals ruling.