City Council Subcommittee and Land Use Committee Vote to Approve the Rezoning of Water Street’s Privately Owned Public Space With Modifications

Proposed rezoning of the Water Street POPS. Image credit: Department of City Planning

Proposed rezoning of the Water Street POPS. Image credit: Department of City Planning

The modified version requires a full public review process in order to infill the largest arcades covered by the proposed zoning text amendment. On June 15, 2016, the City Council Committee on Land Use voted unanimously to approve a modified version of an application submitted by the Alliance for Downtown New York, the NYC Economic Development Corporation, and the Department of City Planning to rezone the privately owned public space—colloquially known as “POPS”—on and surrounding Water Street, located on the east side of lower Manhattan. The modified proposal requires the Alliance for Downtown New York to commit to providing programming on the public plazas, re-instates public review as a requirement to infill the larger buildings affected by the rezoning, and places further restrictions on the infill of the arcades.

The City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises modified the application before issuing its vote. While the original proposal would allow infills of arcades on an as-of-right basis, the modified proposal would require special permits to be issued for the infill of arcades larger than 7,500 square feet. Special permits are only issued after the application succeeds through a full review by Manhattan Community Board 1, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council. There are 17 buildings covered by the proposed rezoning, and seven of these buildings would be required to obtain this special permit in order to infill their arcades.

The modified proposal also limits drugstore entrances to a maximum of 50 feet and limits bank entrances to a maximum of 30 feet. Further, while 200 Water Street and 75 Wall Street would have required certifications by City Planning to infill their arcades, these buildings would now require authorizations instead. The functional difference is that only the Chair of City Planning is required to sign off on a certification, while the full Commission is required to sign off on an authorization.

Further, the modified proposal would require the Alliance for Downtown New York to sign a commitment letter with the City Council promising three years of programming on Water Street, which would include the requirement that the Alliance provide public notice of the programming 30 days in advance, and promising to annually check up on all of the POPS covered by the proposed rezoning.

City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises Chair Donovan Richards issued a statement applauding Council Member Chin for using her negotiating skills to finalize a plan that would “best serve her community.” “The lack of public oversight in the original Water Street Text Amendment was a major concern of mine in this proposal and Council Member Chin worked diligently to ensure that the revised plan found the right mix of input and oversight while also allowing private owners the ability to improve public spaces and bring in neighborhood retail space,” said Subcommittee Chair Richards.

Alliance for Downtown New York President Jessica Lappin issued a statement expressing her joy in seeing the many years of work on the proposed rezoning culminate in the agreement reflected in the modified proposal, which Lappin described as bringing the Alliance “one step closer to our shared vision of a more vibrant Water Street.” “This amendment should enliven the street, improve public plazas, and incentivize investment for the benefit of all those who live, work, or visit the area,” said Lappin.

Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area of lower Manhattan affected by the proposal, issued a statement describing the difficult decisions that were required to be made in agreeing on the modified version of the proposal. “The modified proposal seeks to strike a balance of community input and public oversight with regard to the infill of arcades while providing flexibility to achieve the desired goals of improved public space, neighborhood retail, and pedestrian experience,” said Council Member Chin.

The City Planning Commission recommended approval of the original proposal on April 27, 2016, but will have to review and approve the modified proposal before it can proceed to vote by the full City Council. The City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises voted to approve the modified proposal on June 14, 2016, which is the day before the Land Use Committee voted to approve the proposal as well. For CityLand’s previous coverage on the hearings held by the City Planning Commission and the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, click here and here, respectively.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the modified proposal at its Stated Meeting on June 21, 2016.

City Council: Water Street POPS Upgrades (LU 0361-2016) (June 15, 2016).

By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

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