BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | In what is being hailed as a major victory for the community, the agreement for the St. John’s Partners project recently approved by the City Council states that no more development rights from Hudson River Park may be transferred into Community Board 2 (CB2) after this one megaproject.
However, on the other hand, the agreement does allow the Hudson River Park Trust, the park’s governing state/city authority, to use the currently unused so-called “air rights” of Pier 40 on the actual W. Houston St. pier itself.
The massive former shipping pier boasts significant air rights, and there is already disagreement brewing between the Trust and the community over whether the authority should use all of those on the pier — or just a portion of them.
To that end, Terri Cude, the new chairperson of CB2, said the challenge on Pier 40 will be to strike a balance between “the needs of the park and protecting the community from overdevelopment.”
Meanwhile, the planned 1.7-million-square-foot St. John’s development will have 1,600 apartments and stretch for three blocks along West and Washington Sts. opposite Pier 40 at W. Houston St. A key part of the project is that its developers have agreed to buy 200,000 square feet of unused air rights from the park’s sprawling 15-acre pier for $100 million.
After these development rights are transferred to the St. John’s project, however, Pier 40 will still have an additional 380,000 square feet of unused air rights left. As for the currently “used” air rights on the pier, its existing three-story “donut”-shaped pier-shed structure encloses roughly 760,000 square feet of space.
Local youth sports leagues plan to work with the Trust, CB2 and local politicians on a plan for the pier’s future design that would fully or partially open up its eastern and western sides, while pushing the pier’s commercial structures to its northern and southern edges. This would actually increase the amount of field space on the pier. The Trust wants to develop commercial office space on the pier, but that would need an amendment in Albany, since the Hudson River Park Act does not currently allow office use at Pier 40.
Asked if there are any preliminary design plans for Pier 40 right now, a Trust spokesperson said, “No plans at the moment, but if there were an increase in area for ball fields, some of the [existing] buildings would have to be re-massed.” Whether that means the new structures would be taller — and how much taller — isn’t immediately known, at least not publicly. Theoretically, more floors just could be added within roughly the space of the existing envelope since the current pier shed has very high ceilings.
Air-rights transfers from the 4-mile-long West Side waterfront park up to one block inland were unheard of until 2013, when a surprise amendment to the Park Act at the very end of the Albany legislative session abruptly flipped the landscape.
However, some people scoff at the very notion that piers should have any air rights at all. Indeed, one skeptical local politician has been heard to utter this in private. Be that as it may, under current city zoning regulations, commercial piers — as opposed to recreational piers — do have development rights. Under the Park Act, Pier 40 is designated for a mix of recreational and commercial uses; it currently sports heavily used ball fields and a commercial parking operation.
The final agreement for the St. John’s project, which was brokered by Councilmember Corey Johnson in early December, states that the park’s unused development rights can only be transferred into the adjacent community board district. So, any air rights from Pier 40 can only be transferred into CB2, whose waterfront boundary stretches between W. 14th and Canal Sts.
As for the southern third of the park, in Tribeca, it has no commercial piers, so there will be no air-rights transfers into Community Board 1. Meanwhile, there are commercial piers in the park’s Chelsea/Clinton section — such as Chelsea Piers — so Community Board 4 (CB4) will no doubt see its share of park air-rights transfers in the future.
Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s president and CEO, at times over the past summer said that the entire park currently has roughly 1.6 million square feet of unused air rights available for purchase. (At the time, that included the 200,000 square feet slated for the St. John’s project, which had yet to be approved.) Based on that figure, then, the CB4 park section likely has about 1 million square feet of unused air rights available for purchase and transfer along that part of the waterfront.
CB2 Chairperson Cude said the board is gearing up to tackle the Pier 40 redesign — including the question of how its air rights will be used.
“A CB2 working group on Pier 40 redevelopment is currently in formation,” she told our sister publication, The Villager. “It will collect input and build consensus on the needs of the park and protecting the community from overdevelopment. Until that public process takes place, CB2 does not have a position on what may or may not be appropriate on the pier.”
Asked who will chair the working group, Cude said she is planning to appoint Tobi Bergman, who chaired CB2 for the past two years. Bergman is one of the local youth sports advocates most associated with trying to ensure the pier’s survival as a youth sports mecca into the future.
Asked for comment, Bergman said, “All concerned parties, including the community, will have to be involved in the discussions about the pier. At least now, the Trust can start fixing the piles.”
The $100 million that the St. John’s Partners development team will pay the Trust for the 200,000 square feet of air rights will go toward Pier 40’s most pressing maintenance issue — the repair of all 3,500 of Pier 40’s corroded steel support piles. The work will begin in the spring. Under the air-rights legislation passed in 2013, the proceeds from the sale of any air rights from Pier 40 must go back into the W. Houston St. pier’s repair and maintenance.
Asked how much it will cost to repair all 3,500 piles, the Trust spokesperson said $104 million, based on an estimate in a 2015 report on the pier by Halcrow engineers (now known as CH2M). In addition to the $100 million from the air-rights sale, as part of the final St. John’s deal, the city agreed to kick in $14 million for Pier 40, which should cover the pile repairs.
Meanwhile, during the recent ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) public review for the St. John’s project, Trust CEO Wils fought strenuously, though ultimately unsuccessfully, for the Trust to be allowed to transfer the rest of Pier 40’s unused air rights into CB2. Not surprisingly, she is now eager to max out the use of the remaining air rights on Pier 40 itself for commercial use, since the Trust can’t sell them outside of the park.
Asked for comment, the Trust spokesperson said, “Madelyn has said publicly several times that the Trust hopes to use all of Pier 40’s remaining development rights on the pier itself for a potential commercial project. This would require two changes to the Hudson River Park Act through the state Legislature. The Trust would then work with local electeds and the community on a redevelopment plan for the pier.”
Asked if the Trust would heed the community’s wishes and consider not using all the remaining air rights, the spokesperson indicated that the authority feels it’s important to squeeze revenue out of the pier. That said, he added the project will be “less intensive,” apparently referring to how heavily the pier is used commercially.
“In accordance with the Hudson River Park Act, Pier 40 is intended as a significant revenue generator for the entire park, so our intention is to use all of Pier 40’s remaining development rights,” he said. “As we’re now limited to where we can transfer them inland, we intend to pursue a development on the pier that uses the remaining development rights and that is compatible with ball field use, which will remain and likely be improved. Keep in mind, the funding secured earlier this month already gives any eventual development on the pier a leg up, removing a large financial burden and allowing for a less-intensive project.”
– Sullivan-Thompson Historic District Designated!
– Pier 40 / St. John’s Agreement Approved – Community Comes Out Ahead
– NYU’s Behemoth Revealed = Ugh!
First, we wish you and yours all the best for the holidays and the new year ahead.
At this time, we also ask you to help us in our efforts to maintain our neighborhood’s integrity and sustainability in 2017.
Please make a contribution to the SoHo Alliance at http://www.sohoalliance.org/join.html or mail your check to us at PO Box 429, New York, NY 10012.
We only ask once a year, so please be generous.
This is a gift that will benefit you for years to come.
– Sullivan-Thompson Historic District Designated
On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously voted to designate a new historic district on SoHo’s western side, the South Village’s Sullivan-Thompson Historic District. Click here for a map and images of the new historic district.
The City had long refused to consider landmark protections for the area, until the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation mobilized the local community to oppose a proposed rezoning of the nearby three-block-long St. John’s Building site in West SoHo (Houston Street between Washington and West Streets), as well as to demand landmark protections for the South Village.
GVSHP, SoHo Alliance, Community Board 2 and community leaders argued that the proposed rezoning, supported by the City, would increase development pressure on the nearby historic and endangered South Village. City Councilmember Corey Johnson championed this cause, securing a commitment from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider designation.
Historic designation protects 160 buildings from demolition and possible replacement with high-rise towers not unlike Trump SoHo, which the SoHo Alliance fought hard against. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, owns one such property, the large empty lot and adjacent tenement building on the southwest corner of Houston and Sullivan Street. Local residents have repeatedly contacted the SoHo Alliance, expressing their fears that Kushner would want to build a tower there to rival his father-in-law’s. This landmarking designation greatly relieves those and other concerns.
– Pier 40 / St. John’s Agreement Approved
In another extraordinary victory for our community this past week, the City Council approved the Pier 40/St. John’s rezoning plan, negotiated by our Councilmember Corey Johnson. (Johnson’s district starts on the west side of Thompson Street and extends to the Hudson River; Margaret Chin’s district starts on the east side of Thompson and extends to the East River)
Bouyed by a widespread community effort again spearheaded by GVSHP and the community board, Johnson was able to secure many protections and benefits that the Greenwich Village and SoHo communities have been fighting for years to attain.
Because this struggle extends almost half a century, having its genesis in the failed Westway controversy of the 70s and 80s, we won’t fill you in all details here, but refer you to this comprehensive article in The Villager.
Basically, the deal consists of rezoning the St. John’s site from manufacturing to residential use, while transferring 200,000 square feet of Pier 40 air rights into the new project. In turn, Pier 40 will get an infusion of $100 million in exchange for the air rights, with the money being used to shore up the 15-acre pier’s badly corroded pilings. Johnson also secured $14 million in City funding to ensure the pier’s sustainability.
The existing three-block-long St. John’s building will be demolished and replaced with a 43-story building. Yes, this is a very tall building on our low-rise waterfront. However, what could have been built there without this deal would have been much worse, e.g., a hotel, a big box store, offices, or event spaces that would have drawn loads of people through our neighborhood, but add not one resident or a single unit of affordable housing, or any community amenity.
There will be 1,586 residential units, 476 of them permanently affordable. Of these, 175 units will be for low-income seniors; the rest for low- and moderate-income families. After this one-time air-rights transfer, the deal prohibits any future transfers, ensuring that no more high rises will be constructed along our community’s waterfront.
Seven street-level retail stores and a 10,000 square-foot gym to be shared with the building residents and the public are part of the settlement. A much-needed supermarket will be also included. Big box stores over 10,000 square-feet will not be permitted.
– NYU’s Behemoth Revealed = Ugh!
Not everything went so well for us this week. NYU finally revealed the drawings for its so-called Zipper Building that the SoHo Alliance and other community groups fought so hard for years to prevent. Comprised mostly of student dorms and containing 735,000 square feet of floor area, about one-third the bulk of the Empire State Building, the 300-foot structure is worse than anyone could imagine. See below for yourself.
During the Bloomberg administration, NYU had the area rezoned to midtown standards — but this awkward building would be an atrocity even in midtown. Considering that the SoHo, NoHo, Greenwich Village and South Village Historic Districts – as well as several Individual Landmarks – encircle this all-glass modernist structure, NYU’s building is a further affront to our community.
Interestingly, notice how much of the bulk of the building is located on SoHo’s doorstep, on Houston Street at Mercer. And see how the NYU drawings do not actually show the entire height of this monstrous tower. We can thank Councilmember Margaret Chin for that abomination, when she inexplicably asked NYU to shift much of the original bulk of the building from Bleecker Street to Houston Street.
For a more detailed description, we refer you to the story in this week Villager. http://thevillager.com/2016/12/15/close-encounters-of-n-y-u-kind-massive-mercer-design-revealed/
Again asking you to be generous and contribute to our annual fund drive at http://www.sohoalliance.org/join.html or PO Box 429, NY, NY 10012,
Sean Sweeney, Director
PO Box 429
NY, NY 10012
BY DENNIS LYNCH | The Trump Soho Hotel is not the place to be anymore, at least for members of the New York paparazzi. Sightings — of both the “shooters” and their celebrity prey — have sharply decreased since Donald Trump rose to the top of the Republican Party and won this year’s presidential election, according to pavement-pounding pap.
“Almost nobody has stayed there for the last six months at least,” said the photographer, who hasn’t snapped pictures of any celebs there since around April. “Most A-listers now stay at the Greenwich Hotel owned by [Robert] De Niro, or the Bowery Hotel or the Mercer Hotel, some Uptown at the Ritz [Carlton] or London [NYC]. It’s possible some celebs are staying [at the Trump Soho], but not the usual numbers who were before.”
The photographer speculated that many entertainment stars are avoiding the Trump Soho because of its connection to the president-elect, or that a booker with connections to the many network TV morning shows and studios Uptown possibly left the organization at some point for unknown reasons, as well.
The decrease in sightings confirms the findings from some data scientists who track the hotel bookings of famous and common folk alike. Hipmunk, a San Francisco-based travel company, found that the share of Trump-branded bookings on its site fell around 58 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
The data scientists over at the discovery-focused mobile app Foursquare also noted that foot traffic to Trump’s U.S. hotels, casinos and golf courses was down every month of 2016 compared to those same months in 2015, except in January and February, when they increased by 4 and 5 percent, respectively. Between March and July of this year, traffic was down between 14 and 17 percent compared to those same months in 2015.
Cleveland Cavaliers hoops superstar LeBron James and “several” of his teammates made headlines earlier this month when they decided to lay their heads elsewhere during a trip to the Big Apple for a game against the hometown Knicks. James was diplomatic about the choice, telling reporters during a shootaround at Madison Square Garden that it was just his “personal preference.”
“At the end of the day, I hope he’s one of the best presidents ever for all of our sake, my family, for all of us,” the three-time NBA champ said, according to CNN. “But [it’s] just not my personal preference. It would be the same if I went to a restaurant and decided to eat chicken and not steak.”
The Los Angeles Lakers organization also chose to stay elsewhere during a trip to face the Brooklyn Nets following the election. A source told the Los Angeles Times that the basketball team’s decision was motivated by security concerns surrounding the protests that cropped up at President-elect Trump’s many properties since his November victory, not politics.
The Trump Soho Hotel did not return requests for comment.
-Trump Admits SoHo Alliance Caused Him “Unnecessary Anxiety”
1) Regarding the proposed Fashion Week event seeking to close Greene Street to traffic, in order to allow a retailer to conduct an amplified, outdoor ‘fashion show’ for 750 people on our sidewalk:
The Community Board recommended denial of the permits that the applicant requested. It now goes to the Mayor’s Streets Activities Permit Office for review. We are unsure how the agency will respond; but at the hearing last week, the applicants stated they are paying the city $25,000 to get the permit.
The way things have been going at City Hall recently, we are not sure whether the community board’s advice will be heeded. Stay tuned.
2) We are joining with our friends at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation to demand protection from a huge development project planned for the three-block long St. John’s Terminal Building site at Houston and West Streets.
There will be a public hearing on the proposal at City Planning Commission this Tuesday, August 24.
Some 200,000-300,000 square feet of ‘Big Box’ stores and ‘destination retail’ are proposed, which will draw enormous amounts of traffic from all over the metropolitan area. View the renderings here.
The plan will also open the door to vastly increased development up and down the West SoHo and Greenwich Village waterfront using ‘air rights’ from the nearby Hudson River Park, and leave our nearby South Village community vulnerable to intensified development pressure with no protections for its historic, low-rise residential buildings.
WE NEED A HUGE TURNOUT TO DEMAND PROTECTIONS FOR THE NEARBY SOUTH VILLAGE AND WEST SOHO!
Join us in calling for
HOW TO HELP:
You can check the GVSHP twitter feed at twitter.com/gvshp starting at 10 am on the 24th for status updates about the hearing, when public testimony will begin and end, etc.
For more information, click here.
Sean Sweeney, Director
Pedestrian traffic is part of the fight over a plan for a business improvement district along Broadway in SoHo. By CARA BUCKLEY
Sean Sweeney, who leads a neighborhood group and worries about the crowds in SoHo, said, “We’re packed.”
Living in SoHo for decades has taught Sean Sweeney how to urge people to hurry up in several languages, though not without his blood pressure shooting up.“Rápido! Vite! Mach schnell!” he hisses as visiting crowds of shoppers shuffle along at a crawl. On weekends he sometimes barrels through packs of dawdlers like a bowling ball through pins. Once, when a group of people, coffees in hand, refused to move off his building’s stoop, the ensuing standoff nearly escalated into a fistfight.
Now there are plans to bring in a business improvement district — a public-private partnership that collects assessments to pay for local improvements like better sanitation, marketing and beautification — and Mr. Sweeney and many of his neighbors are not pleased.
“We don’t need a business improvement district; we need a resident improvement district,” said Mr. Sweeney, who moved into a loft on Greene Street in the early 1980s, during the hard-to-imagine days when SoHo’s soaring factory spaces were vacant and its streets desolate. “We’re packed.”
SoHo, the Lower Manhattan neighborhood so named because it is south of Houston Street, has in the past four decades been transformed from a hard-bitten haven for artists into a magnet for such luxury retailers as Prada and Chanel. Partly as a result, the neighborhood’s residents are in the unusual position of fighting a plan designed to improve conditions in their area, even though the method has been widely embraced throughout the city and is overwhelmingly viewed as helpful, and benign.
The controversy is in its second year and nearing a likely climax this March with a public hearing before the City Council. Not only has it tapped a primal fear among some in SoHo, it has also laid bare a neighborhood schism.
The artists who colonized the neighborhood decades ago may have secured castles in the sky, but they also find themselves surrounded by streets that are clogged by tourists and lined with giant retailers and luxury stores. For them, having a business improvement district formed with the help of real estate giants means ceding more ground to invaders who, they believe, want to increase pedestrian flow to be able to charge more for retail space.
“In SoHo, there’s always a concern that this neighborhood built by pioneers will be further eroded,” said State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, a Democrat who represents the area and opposes the plan.
Brad Hoylman, the chairman of the local community board, which rejected the plan because of a lack of community support, was struck by the outcry.
“I can recall few issues where there has been as much vociferous opposition as the SoHo BID,” he said, referring to the district by its acronym.
But those who support the district say Mr. Sweeney, who himself leads a neighborhood activist group called the SoHo Alliance, and other opponents are fear-mongering and have got it all wrong.
The district, they say, would be formed largely to deal with the effects of the masses that fuel SoHo’s runaway retail success.
Every weekend, the garbage cans on Broadway overflow to the point where people resort to laying trash around them in rings, in what one local politician calls “a sort of tribute to the garbage pail.”
The Sanitation Department cannot keep up. Retailers have repeatedly been fined for messy sidewalks out front. Meanwhile, street vendors gobble up precious sidewalk space, choking pedestrian traffic. Supporters of the district say a full-time staff member could urge illegal vendors and food trucks to leave or could alert the police. Besides, proponents note, the proposed district itself would be only along Broadway between Houston and Canal Streets — and many dissenters live outside that zone.
“There’s no big, bad boogeyman; I don’t want more tourists on Broadway,” said Katy Rice, who supports the new district and who has lived on Broadway for nine years. “As a resident, I don’t want to step on trash, and I don’t want vendors selling hash pipes outside my door.”
The first stirrings of a proposal for the district came three or four years ago.
For nearly two decades, the nonprofit group ACE had supplied the area with street cleaners through a vocational program that provides transitional work experience for formerly homeless men and women.
But in the past five years, the group, which was founded by the philanthropist Henry Buhl, received fewer and fewer donations from residents and retailers along Broadway between Houston and Canal. Sometimes the budget shortfalls exceeded $100,000, and the group found itself diverting money from other programs.
“We were doing this for multinational corporations making billions, and this tiny nonprofit is shouldering this load for nothing,” said Jim Martin, ACE’s executive director.
So last summer, ACE stopped cleaning the Broadway stretch, and the garbage began piling up.
Mr. Buhl and some property owners had been floating the idea of creating the business improvement district by collecting regular assessments from property owners along Broadway to finance an agency that would have an executive director, organize regular street cleanings and tackle longtime thorny issues like illegal vending and food cart jams.
After the community outcry at the organizers’ initial plan, they rejiggered some aspects, including decreasing the district’s proposed budget to $550,000 and ensuring that owners of residential co-ops and condos would pay only nominal assessment fees.
Brian Steinwurtzel, who is on the district plan’s steering committee and whose family owns two buildings on the strip, said his group had been reaching out to residents along Broadway and had slowly but steadily won broad support.
“This is about sweeping the sidewalks, cleaning the intersections and crosswalks, especially when it’s snowing, and it’s about taking the garbage and providing more garbage cans,” Mr. Steinwurtzel said. “The people who are part of ‘SoHo No BID,’ I would love it if they would help participate in this,” he added, referring to a group of the plan’s critics.
Meanwhile, several residents on Broadway who initially opposed the plan said they found themselves supporting it.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about the BID,” said Cheryl Klauss, a photographer who has lived on Broadway for 30 years. “I think it’s going to take care of the ramifications of having so many tourists here.”
But many residents remain entrenched in their opposition. They worry that the district would give the upper hand to real estate titans with properties in the neighborhood and that it would eventually be expanded.
They also argue that the proposed budget, now set at roughly $550,000, remains excessive, and that SoHo might find itself festooned with holiday lights and signs that would drive in yet more tourists.
“BIDs & not-for-profits are carving up NYC and claiming those areas as their fiefdoms, bankrolled by taxpayer money,” Pete Davies, of the SoHo No BID committee, wrote in an e-mail.
Another critic, Jamie Johnson, said the plan was an overly expensive solution to a terrible trash problem. “It’s ‘Let’s put in a chandelier when we only need a light bulb,’ ” she said.