City Council Committees Approve Pier 40 Transfer of Development Rights

550 Washington Pier 40

Artist Rendering of 550 Washington Nothern Site. Image Credit: CookFox Architects

Zoning Subcommittee and Land Use Committee approve brokered rezoning and development rights transfer at St. John’s Terminal in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. On December 6, 2016, two City Council committees approved a land use application to develop the aging St. John’s Terminal which is located across West Street from Pier 40 and just north of the Holland Tunnel. The approval will allow the transfer of $100 million of air rights from Pier 40 to the 1.7 million-square-foot development.

The proposed transfer initially received harsh criticism from community groups and city officials. At the City Planning hearing, Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, expressed support for the much needed money to repair a dilapidated Pier 40, but she was critical of the permit request for 772 parking spots, and the amount, location and design of the affordable housing proposed. Corey Johnson, the City Council representative for the area, was also critical of the application. Several members of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation also spoke against the project at City Planning, calling the project “ludicrously oversized,” and requesting an amendment to prevent future development-rights transfers into Manhattan Community Board 2. The City Planning Commission approved the application without alterations. For CityLand’s full coverage of the City Planning hearing, click here.

At the hearing held by the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises on November 1, 2016, Council Member Johnson reiterated his criticisms of the proposed deal while still recognizing the failing condition of Pier 40. Johnson was especially focused on the lack of a guarantee of payment to the Pier if the project did not come to fruition. “The whole point of this project is to get a hundred million dollars,” Johnson stated flatly to the applicant. The developer expressed a willingness at the hearing to sign the sale agreement with the park prior to the City Council’s vote and to put up a letter of credit for the full $100 million. For CityLand’s full coverage of the Subcommittee hearing, click here.

On December 6th, both the Zoning Subcommittee and the Land Use Committee voted to approve the project with modifications. The approved development now guarantees that the full $100 million will be paid to the park before the developer can pull the special permit. Additionally, the deal will amend the zoning text to prohibit future transfers of Pier 40’s remaining 383,000 square feet of development rights from the Hudson River Park Trust into Manhattan Community Board 2. Council Member Johnson praised the compromise, highlighting the 500 new affordable housing units—25 percent of the 1,500 units will be permanently affordable—the developer’s commitment to community businesses by not renting retail space to big box stores and the prohibition of future transfers of development rights into the area.

“Once the funding is secured, we must also make sure Pier 40 serves as a revenue generator for the entire park,” said Madelyn Wils, president and CEO of the Hudson River Park Trust. “We thank the City Council for acknowledging today that the remaining development rights on Pier 40 should be used on the pier itself in a future redevelopment.”

“We are glad that the deal . . . includes explicit limitations on future air rights transfers for the Greenwich Village waterfront and adjacent neighborhoods,” said Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman. “This will help protect this neighborhood from the massive overdevelopment which could have easily otherwise resulted.”

The only dissenting vote in both committees was from City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Williams, who has previously voiced his displeasure with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law saying that it does not go far enough, again raised his concerns but with a new focus. Williams, who serves as the City Council’s housing chair, stated that it was more important than ever to ensure deeper affordability for city projects in light of the recent nomination of Ben Carson as the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “What happens in one community does affect us all,” said Williams.

In 2015, regarding HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule which requires communities to create plans to reduce dense pockets of low-income and minority families, Ben Carson wrote, “These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse.” Carson has also described public housing as a “mandated social-engineering scheme,” and a policy of a “communist” country.

The City Council will vote on the matter on December 15th.

CC: Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises Public Hearing on 550 Washington (LU 0506-2016; 0507-2016; 0508-2016; 0509-2016; 0510-2016; 0511-2016) (Dec. 5, 2016).

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).

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