May 6, 2021 - The New York TImes
Will a skyscraper at the South Street Seaport set a precedent for development in historic districts?
By Amy Sohn
May 6, 2021Updated 8:39 a.m. ET
For more than 40 years, real estate developers have been intoxicated by an asphalt trapezoid at 250 Water Street. It has East River proximity, high visibility from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn Heights promenade and — as far as open space in downtown Manhattan goes — it is big: nearly 50,000 square feet. But this particular lot, whose spots ran about $20 an hour on weekdays, is in the South Street Seaport Historic District, which means that anyone seeking to build even a toolshed there must first secure permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Though that might have deterred some developers, the Howard Hughes Corporation nevertheless paid about $180 million for the lot in 2018. Howard Hughes had made several building proposals to the commission, culminating this week with a plan for a 324-foot-tall mixed-use luxury tower. Though zoning laws prohibit any building higher than 120 feet in the South Street Seaport district, Howard Hughes has cleared the first hurdle toward fulfilling its dream of a skyscraper taller than the Brooklyn Bridge in an important, and visible, part of Lower Manhattan.
APRIL 7, 2021
After nine hours of testimony, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission sent the Howard Hughes Corporation’s proposal for a tower at 250 Water St. back for further revisions.
“It is still inappropriate,” L.P.C. Commissioner Michael Goldblum said of the Seaport tower plan.
Cheering the result were several groups fighting the Water St. tower, including the Seaport Coalition, Save Our Seaport (SOS) and Children First NYC.
“We thank the commissioners for their thoughtful insights,” said Michael Kramer, a Seaport Coalition member. “Common sense tells us, as we familiarize ourselves with the history of this erstwhile parking lot, that a proposal for a tower in the low-rise South Street Seaport Historic District, disregards all precedence and seeks to establish a new set of rules. It also tells us that whatever is built here should replace this former Milstein property with something that is architecturally significant rather than ‘shoehorned’ into place for all the wrong reasons.”
Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who represents Lower Manhattan, including the Seaport, added, “That language is clear, which makes this revised proposal unacceptable and absurd. Though the total height has been reduced from 470 feet to 345 feet, that is still nearly three times the 120-foot limit [under current zoning]. Equally concerning is that the building’s footprint merely shifts density to the edge of the district. The current proposal is more of a sleight of hand than a serious attempt to incorporate community feedback and local restrictions.”
Howard Hughes Corp. is expected to return with more revisions to is plan.
This is the second time the plan has been found lacking by L.P.C. At a January meeting at which the agency considered the 250 Water St. project, L.P.C. also chose “no action.”
UPDATED April 7, 2020, 7:11 a.m.:
Howard Hughes Corporation returned to the Landmarks Preservation Commission Tuesday with a shorter, less bulky design for a mixed-use tower at 250 Water Street.
But the reviews from community members and civic leaders were the same as to the developer’s first plan, which was summarily dismissed by the commission as out of scale with the South Street Seaport historic district. Supporters remained supporters and opponents remained opponents, with the exception of the nonprofit New York Landmarks Conservancy, which reversed its position and is now in favor of the plan.
The revised proposal eschews the initial two-tower design atop a podium structure for four interlocking towers set back above a low-rise street wall.
Presented by architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the revision includes a street wall that varies in height and has metalwork on the facade and narrower windows to match other buildings in the district.
But it is still bigger than they are.
The developer has reduced the project’s size by about 27 percent, to 550,000 square feet from 757,000, cut the number of residential units to 270 from 360, and removed 30 of the original 100 affordable housing units in an effort to gain Landmarks’ blessing.
Proponents of the project, including Margaret Chin, the New York City Council member who would determine its fate should it be approved by Landmarks, pleaded for the affordable housing and economic development they claimed the project would provide. They noted that the parking lot on which the development would be built has contributed nothing to the character of the neighborhood for decades.
The same arguments were made in January to no discernible effect on the commission, which focused solely on the project’s appropriateness for the historic district.
“This is a rare opportunity to do something special and preserve the [South Street] Seaport museum,” said local City Council member Margaret Chin, referring to the $50 million endowment the long-struggling museum would receive from the developer.
“Without the museum there will be no historical district,” she added.
Jessica Lappin of the Alliance for Downtown New York said Howard Hughes’s revision was “vastly different” from its first proposal and “integrates community feedback.”
Opponents, however, were unmoved.
Despite Howard Hughes’ reducing the height of the proposed building to 345 feet from 470 and doubling setbacks along Beekman and Water streets, critics blasted what they saw as minor changes.
“The new proposal is more sleight of hand than an attempt to integrate community feedback,” Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou said in a statement, noting that the plans still exceed the 120-foot height limit.
“This developer has never proposed a project within the height limits of the district,” said Niou, who suggested that approval of the design would be unfair to developers who had worked within the neighborhood’s zoning, which prioritizes low-rise street walls.
But those projects did not provide the affordable units and museum subsidy that this one would — and there’s the rub.
Critics reminded the commission that its duty is to consider the appropriateness of the design regardless of any affordable housing or museum funding that the development would unlock.
Joanne Gorman, co-founder of Friends of South Street Seaport, disputed even that.
“The community is being played,” she said. “The sale of city-owned development rights would go to the museum, so the people of New York [and not the developer] will be saving the museum,” Gorman said.
Detractors objected to the transfer of air rights from Pier 17, located within the historic district, to another location in the district, preferring that air rights be transferred out of the neighborhood.
The divide between some community residents and business advocates was drawn in sharp relief during Tuesday’s testimony.
Manhattan Chamber of Commerce CEO Jessica Walker said the pandemic revealed the vulnerability of office-heavy districts, including most of Midtown, emphasizing that residential buildings provide economic stability to surrounding businesses.
Madeleine McGrory, a policy analyst for REBNY, echoed that sentiment, saying housing would help guard the South Street Seaport district from the vicissitudes of tourism, which has been hammered by the pandemic.
Howard Hughes has said if denied approval, it would build a 160-foot-tall structure — 120 feet as-of-right plus an additional 40 feet permitted in a flood zone. That smaller project would not come with any affordable units or museum subsidy. The commission is expected to issue its decision in the coming weeks.
By Jonathan Hilburg • April 7, 2021 •
Opponents of the Howard Hughes Corporation’s plans to build a mixed-use tower at 250 Water Street in Lower Manhattan made their voices heard during a grueling six-hour-long Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing yesterday, April 6, even as SOM presented a cut-down version of the project. Still, the revised design seemed to win over some of the project’s former critics.
Three months ago, the team went before the LPC to present a dual-pronged tower-on-a-base scheme, with the taller topping out at 470 feet tall and 360 units of housing between the two sections (with 100 set aside as affordable). The site, currently a parking lot at the edge of the historic Seaport Historic District, is capped at 120-feet-tall, requiring an air rights transfer from the neighboring South Street Seaport Museum. In exchange, the endangered museum would receive $50 million to help shore up its future, including possibly using some of that money to build a copper-clad, SOM-designed annex.
In the months since, there has been plenty of ink spilled in favor of the development by proponents of affordable housing who point out Community District 1 is sorely lacking in affordable options, and by opponents, who have argued affordable housing isn’t in the LPC’s mandate and that the tower is grossly out of scale for a historic neighborhood. Additionally, in testimony submitted to the LPC the last time the project came up for approval, the City Club of New York argued that the survival of the Seaport Museum shouldn’t be linked to the approval of 250 Water Street and is outside the scope of consideration.
Howard Hughes and SOM took that feedback to heart and returned with a shorter, squatter tower massing set even further back on the podium to unclutter views of the street. The two-tower typology was changed to a solid, filled-in massing that now caps out at 345 feet; the entire project has been downsized from 757,000 square feet to 550,000. Accordingly, the number of housing units has also gone down from 360 to 270 (shrinking the affordable housing component to 70). Cornices were also added along the roofline of the podium.
Still, that wasn’t enough to soothe the most vocal of opponents yesterday, even as city officials were on hand to stump for the project. Ultimately, however, those present outnumbered those against by 79-to-54.
Margaret Chin, who represents District 1 on the City Council, went before the LPC to argue that the endowment to the Seaport Museum was necessary to ensure the survival of an institution synonymous with the historic district.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who has typically come out against tall tower construction in historic and low-rise districts in the past, has been a surprising proponent of the complex at 250 Water St. On April 6, Brewer told the LPC that developing non-contributing sites was vital, and complimented the way the design for the museum at 89 South Street blended new elements with the historic structure. She also singled out the reduced bulk and height of 250 Water St.’s podium along Water Street, and the “historic materiality” of the brick and patterning chosen for the facade. Brewer ultimately thanked the design team for revising the project according to community feedback and gave the project her blessing.
However, the new design didn’t seem to assuage all complaints, and preservationists, city nonprofits, and nearby Southbridge co-op residents were on hand to contest the new design. Yuh-Line Niou, who represents the district in the New York State Assembly, said that she couldn’t support the project as it still exceeded the 120-foot height limit, calling SOM’s shifting of 250 Water St.’s bulk a “sleight of hand” that was still grossly out of scale. Niou also pointed out that Howard Hughes had never proposed a tower that conformed with the district’s current height limits, arguing that they had gone big from the start.
The City Club of New York, unsurprisingly, was still against the new massing, as were the Friends of South Street Seaport, Historic Districts Council, Municipal Art Society of NY, Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, and others. However, in a major move, the New York Landmarks Conservancy changed its position and ultimately endorsed the project (see above for their previous op-ed where the group came out against it). In their testimony yesterday, the Conservancy lauded the design team for addressing their previous concerns and reducing the bulk and height of the project.
Ultimately, the LPC declined to take action and is expected to issue its decision sometime in the next few weeks. According to The Real Deal, Howard Hughes has stated that if the LPC turns down their application for 250 Water Street, they’ll move ahead with plans to build a 160-foot-tall tower at the site without any affordable housing. Although the district caps developments at 120 feet, a 40-foot variance for flood-prone areas would allow the developers to build higher. In the meantime, a Howards Hughes spokesperson told AN that “We are evaluating potential modifications in response to the Commission’s comments.”
They continued, adding:
“We’ve worked hard on a redesign of 250 Water Street that’s appropriate and responds directly to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s comments about the building’s size and contextuality. We were able to do all of this while also preserving two of the project’s crucial elements: deeply affordable housing in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods and meaningful funding for the South Street Seaport Museum, which is the heart of the Historic District and reason for its existence. As the neighborhood and the city focus on post-pandemic recovery, we have a unique opportunity to transform a parking lot with no historic value into a nearly billion-dollar investment that supports the long-term viability of the Museum and creates Lower Manhattan’s most significant affordable housing in decades. We appreciate the Commission’s thoughtful consideration, along with the broad support we received yesterday from an array of community members, preservationists, elected officials, architects, local business owners and many more who believe the Seaport’s best days are ahead of us, and that this project will play a vital role in its recovery.”
The full 10-hour LPC meeting can be watched here.
Concerns about the project have long been raised by parents at the Peck Slip School and Blue School, located across the street from the site. At the Peck Slip School’s remote PTA meeting on Wednesday, parents got an update on the scaled-back project, but much of their worries remained focused on mitigation of toxins on the site and the potentially disruptive impact of three years of construction to classroom learning, heightened, they said, by a building bigger than what is now allowed.
“There is a significant difference in the amount of construction time, the amount of noise,” said Megan Malvern, a co-founder of Children First, a parent advocacy group opposed to what it calls “unchecked development” on the 250 Water Street site. “We could be lessening the exposure our kids will have to noise and toxins and the ongoing din, and the [lack of] sunlight if it can stay at 120 feet.”
Added to the concerns, she said, is the psychological effect on children who will be returning to the classroom after a long absence due to remote learning. Malvern introduced Arline Bronzoft, an environmental psychologist and noted expert on the psychological effects of noise, who warned of the potential consequences of the construction on learning.
“We are contemplating a project that will increase noise on children who have been put through so much stress during the past year,” said Bronzaft, professor emerita of the City University of New York. “Any additional impact from noise will only serve to exacerbate the difficulties that children will have to adapt to this new school environment.
Re: letter from Paul Hovitz, published March 11, 2021
Paul Hovitz’s letter was quite critical of his Southbridge neighbors many of whom have opposed the oversized building proposed by the Howard Hughes Corp (HHC) at 250 Water Street. He failed to note that their proposal is also opposed by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), Community Board 1, local organizations including the Seaport Coalition, Save Our Seaport, and Children First and roughly 10,000 people who signed a petition in opposition and many well respected good government groups including the Municipal Arts Society, the City Club of NY, Landmarks Conservancy, Historic Districts Council and the list goes on. And no, these organizations do not stand to lose their view from an oversized building.
Mr. Hovitz also neglects to mention that 250 Water Street is within the South Street Seaport Historic District that has special low scale zoning limits and LPC oversight intended to preserve the historic low scale character of this special part of Lower Manhattan. Indeed, Lower Manhattan has many of the tallest buildings in New York City and there is no opposition to them since they are not subject to the historic district zoning and guidelines that all other owners do comply with.
Howard Hughes should be commended for supporting other local organizations but that does not give them the right to disregard the protections intended to keep the Seaport Historic District so special. And Mr. Hovitz fails to note that the 120’ height limit instituted in the Seaport in 2003 was overwhelmingly supported by this community including residents, every local elected official, the City Planning Commission, a unanimous City Council and groups such as the Downtown Alliance, the South Street Seaport Museum, and Community Board 1.
For Mr. Hovitz to question the motives of others with different positions than his, I would hope that he is truly speaking—at arms length—uninfluenced by benefits that HHC has bestowed on so many while in the process of trying to get a controversial development project approved.
Full disclosure, I am one of Mr. Hovitz’s referenced Southbridge neighbors. There are 1651 apts. in Southbridge Towers. Under the Seaport’s existing contextual zoning height limit of 120 ft, not even 200 apts. – likely less – would lose any sort of view that Mr. Hovitz suggests is behind resistance to an inappropriate development for the Seaport.
I don’t have a view from my apartment. My view comes from my daily walks through the Seaport, and I don’t want a looming skyscraper destroying this special place.
Co-founder- Friends of South Street Seaport,
MARCH 9, 2021
The Village Sun
BY THE SEAPORT COALITION |
The South Street Seaport Museum, its collections and historic ships, has had to be rescued from financial ruin many times in the past. Unlike some other museums, the city has charged the South Street Seaport Museum rent on the city-owned site and has slowly taken away the museum’s permanent revenue stream; all this even though the museum was set up as the guardian of the Seaport Historic District, its ships and its 18th- and 19th-century buildings.
The fix is in
In 2013, the Economic Development Corporation (essentially, the mayor) and the Texas-based developer Howard Hughes Corporation, nearly 25 percent owned by billionaire Bill Ackman, revised the Seaport master lease and, in a secret backroom deal, stripped away monies from leases and dock fees originally intended to fund the museum, all without the museum being invited to the table.
After ruining the museum’s chances of survival, Howard Hughes is using it as a pawn, calling it the “Heart of the Seaport.” The developer now offers to “rescue” the ailing institution with $50 million — but only if it can shatter the historic district’s 120-foot zoning cap with a massive 345-foot-tall building at 250 Water St., setting a precedent repeatable within the Seaport and other historic districts throughout the city.
E.D.C. and Howard Hughes conspired to defund the museum. Now E.D.C. should take the lead and redirect cash flows and unsold assets from the historic district back to the museum so it can fulfill its mission, preserving and safeguarding the historic district.
Hughes paid $180 million for the 250 Water St. site. To justify the price to its shareholders, it wants to erect a 345-foot-tall mega-building, despite the historic district zoning’s 120-foot cap and neighboring buildings that are only five stories tall.
What you see is NOT what you get
Hughes is NOT building a new museum on John St.; it’s ONLY paying for design and approvals. Convenient, since this is linked to approvals needed for the developer’s mega-tower project.
The help Hughes Corp. promises for the museum is not for renovations to the Schermerhorn building but ONLY for facade repairs, which is an existing obligation since 2013.
In Hughes’s plan presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, museum spaces will be downsized and unused public spaces given to Hughes to monetize.
Let me in
Meanwhile, the museum has an unused $12.5-million Superstorm Sandy FEMA grant for reopening galleries and repairing elevators/escalators and HVAC to protect at-risk collections, yet has been shuttered since 2012.
The disappearing act
Internal Hughes Corp. documents show the developer plans to flip the property pending city approvals. Hughes is not obligated to transfer any neighborhood amenities when it sells, and it has given no signed document of the “promised” gift of $50 million to the museum. Amenities promised during land-use negotiations disappear MANY times in deals all over the city, with elected officials powerless to stop it.
Now you see it, now you don’t
Hughes Corp. has a track record of lying to the community about amenities, including promised green public park space on Pier 17, a 10,000-square-foot Fulton Stall Market, another greenmarket and talk of saving the museum several times — none of which have materialized.
Hughes is already downsizing community benefits connected to the 250 Water St. project, including:
1.) a reduction in low-income housing from 160 down to 70 units, and not very affordable.
2.) a “gift” of outdoor space: a play street outside Peck Slip School — the public street the school already uses! Construction of the extra-tall development would shut the street down for years longer than if the Hughes project was built as of right under the current height cap.
Hughes could build today. The Seaport Coalition and Community Board 1 welcome construction of a project at the 120-foot, zoned-height limit. Instead, Hughes’s mega-building will take years longer to build — years of more noise, heavy machinery and exposure to toxic chemicals for nearby seniors and more than 1,000 schoolchildren.
The 250 Water St. site was found to contain extremely dangerous elemental mercury, lead-contaminated groundwater and oil storage tanks, to name a few. An estimated 1 million cubic feet of clean and dirty soil needs to be excavated (more than 3,700 truckloads) and carted away on busy Pearl St. near three schools.
Selling public assets
The city, not Hughes Corp. owns air rights from the Tin Building / Pier 17. The Seaport Coalition has a viable plan for selling these publicly owned assets to a willing buyer for use outside the historic district, while the revenue would directly benefit the museum. Elected officials and the mayor have ignored this plan.
The South Street Seaport Historic District is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 15 Most Endangered Districts in the U.S. Smashing the 120-foot zoning could open up the district to high-rise development and destroy the 19th-century low-scale neighborhood “where modern-day New York began.”
Media Contacts: Michael Kramer 1-917-622-5154 Megan Malvern 1-917-733-4761 Paul Goldstein 1-917-691-3313
No Action Taken: NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Sends Seaport Developer Back
Today, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commissioners chose to take “no action” after they aired their thoughts about the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) scheme at 250 Water Street to build two Mega Towers in the Historic South Street Seaport Historic District.
Many of the Commissioners noted that “nothing outside the district should be inside the district” referring to the 120’ height limit proposed for a district of low-scale buildings. They spoke about crossing Pearl Street where “the weight of the world is off your shoulders” as you reach the water. The Commissioners were instructed by Chair Sarah Carroll not to consider any extraneous factors (i.e. community benefits or zoning) as their civic role was to protect and safeguard the historic esthetic, to stabilize property, to foster civic pride, enhance tourism, the economy and promote historic districts.
The Seaport Coalition thanks the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission for their endurance and their thoughtful consideration of last week’s public hearing where we presented 7,500 petition signatories, over 100 speakers, and 460 letters in opposition, in nine hours of testimony to defend the neighborhood “where New York began”. During this global pandemic, as we all work at holding homeschooling, jobs, and our finances together, we realize that we must stay vigilant as this proposal starts its path to ULURP. For many families the thought of sending their children, as young as two, back to school after such a difficult year and a half while heavy construction ramps up, is overwhelming. But staying informed and active in this process is the only way to ensure everyone's concerns are heard and attended to in a responsible way.
We urge you to stand with us, reject this corporate greed, and protect one of our National Treasures. Not only is the South Street Seaport the birthplace of New York City and New York State, but it is also a key piece of America's national history! https://seaportcoalition.com/
BY THE VILLAGE SUN
The Howard Hughes Corporation’s plan for two megatowers in the South Street Historic District is not exactly sailing smoothly through the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
On the contrary, on Tues., Jan. 12, the commission chose to take “no action” after its members aired their thoughts and concerns about the HHC scheme to construct the double-tower project at 250 Water St. in the historic district.
Commissioners noted that “nothing outside the district should be inside the district,” referring to the project’s proposed 120-foot height slated for a world-renowned district of low-scale historic buildings. They spoke of how people cross Pearl St., where “the weight of the world is off your shoulders” as they reach the water.
L.P.C. Chairperson Sarah Carroll instructed the commissioners not to consider any extraneous factors — such as the inclusion of affordable housing in the project or zoning — since their civic duty is to protect historic districts and their esthetic and to promote these landmarked districts.
The Seaport Coalition is leading the opposition to the HHC project.
In a press release, the group said, “The Seaport Coalition thanks the Landmarks Preservation Commission for their endurance and their thoughtful consideration of last week’s public hearing where we presented 7,000 petition signatories, about 100 speakers and 200 letters in opposition, in nine hours of testimony to defend the neighborhood where New York began.
“During this global pandemic,” the coalition said, “as we all work at holding homeschooling, jobs and our finances together, we realize that we must stay vigilant as this proposal starts its path to ULURP.”
ULURP refers to the city’s seven-month-long Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
“We urge you to stand with us, reject this corporate greed, and protect one of our national treasures,” the opponents said. “Not only is the South Street Seaport the birthplace of New York City and New York State, but it is also a key piece of America’s national history!”
Over the years the Howard Hughes Corporation has faced extensive community pushback for its plans to build two mixed-use towers at the site. And this week, the Landmarks Preservation Commission — dismissing pleas from a slew of influential New Yorkers at a Jan. 5 hearing — said the project was simply too tall.
According to the Tribeca Trib, the commission told the Texas-based developer at a meeting Tuesday that the towers would “invade the district’s sky space.”
The panel took no official action, but made clear it would not approve the project. The setback means Howard Hughes will have to revisit plans for the site with architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
“We appreciate the LPC’s thoughtful feedback and look forward to returning soon to the commission,” a spokesperson for the developer told the newspaper in a statement.
Some have speculated that redevelopment of the giant parking lot would not be economically viable if limited to the historic district’s typical scale of five stories. A low-scale project would certainly not generate enough profit to endow the historic district’s long-struggling South Street Seaport Museum with $50 million, as Howard Hughes’ 40-story towers promised to do.
Howard Hughes bought the site for $180 million in 2018 from the Milstein family. Its current plan, scaled back from an earlier proposal, includes two 470-foot towers with 260 condo units and 100 affordable rental units.
At that height, the towers would be well over the existing 120-foot zoning height limit in the area, the local paper noted. Beyond approval from Landmarks, the developer needs a zoning modification from the City Council; it has support for that lined up from the local member, Margaret Chin.
Critics of the proposal argue that Landmarks can only consider its architecture and scale, not the $50 million that Howard Hughes said the project would allow it to contribute to the Seaport Museum.
The commission’s chair, Sarah Carroll, agreed, saying at Tuesday’s meeting that the benefits for the museum, “while laudable, are not factors that we can consider or rely on in determining whether the proposed designs for the 250 Water Street site” are appropriate.
Commissioners were unswayed by arguments that the site has been undeveloped for decades, has no historic significance, and is at the edge of the historic district with much taller buildings immediately behind it.
[Tribeca Trib] — Sylvia Varnham O’Regan
One week after the Howard Hughes Corporation and SOM presented a revised vision for their dual towers at 250 Water Street and the new home for the South Street Seaport Museum in Lower Manhattan, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has sent them back to the drawing board.
The plan was to build dual towers atop a six-story base topping out at 470 feet at 250 Water Street, currently a parking lot at the edge of the Seaport Historic District, bringing 360 new units of housing to the neighborhood, 100 of them earmarked as permanently affordable. The base would hold 5,000 square feet of community space as well as offices and ground-level retail.
Development in the neighborhood is capped at 120 feet, and to build anything taller, Howard Hughes requires both a zoning change and an air rights transfer; as previously covered, the transfer would pour $50 million into the beleaguered South Street Seaport Museum and set it on the path towards long-term sustainability.
However, according to The Tribeca Trib, it looks like commissioners by-and-large took the side of the preservationist and community groups that have vocally protested the project’s height. That comes despite the support of some politically big names in Manhattan, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and District 1 Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who both previously testified in support of the project. At the last LPC meeting, which was open to public testimony, 67 of the speakers argued for the project while 56 were against it.
While SOM argued that the site’s location at the edge of the historic district meant it should be evaluated relative to other tall buildings in the area instead of inside of the Seaport Historic District, commissioners disagreed.
“If this lot had not been in the district in the first place,” said commissioner John Gustafsson, “then you could do whatever you want and that’s perfectly fine. But that’s not where we are. It is part of the district. It’s either in or it’s out.”
Commissioner Everardo Jefferson complimented the height of the base (71 feet) and the fenestration, but ultimately called the proposal “overwhelming.” Commissioner Michael Goldblum agreed, saying he wasn’t sure if any tower could be built on the site.
Ultimately, although the commission acknowledged the importance of the museum to the historic district and the benefits it would reap from this deal, they told the team to come back with a shorter proposal for 250 Water Street. Commission chair Sarah Carroll told the group that they aren’t averse to developing the site as it has sat empty for decades, but that the current proposal is simply too tall.
A Howard Hughes spokesperson provided AN with the following statement:
“We appreciated the LPC’s thoughtful feedback and look forward to returning soon to the Commission. An appropriate building on the site of the parking lot at 250 Water Street can save the Seaport Museum —the soul of the Historic District and reason for its creation—and provide Lower Manhattan’s most significant affordable housing in decades. Now more than ever, it’s important to continue our efforts to make this $1.4 billion investment in the Historic Seaport, Lower Manhattan and the city.”
The full LPC meeting, and each commissioner’s testimony,
January 15, 2021 • Real Estate
The Landmarks Commission held a two-hour discussion of the plans for 250 Water and 175 John on Tuesday, giving its support for the design of the five-story building that would expand the South Street Seaport Museum but nixing plans for the full-block site next to the Peck Slip School that would include two 470-foot towers.
There was not a “no” vote per se; rather the commission took no action, and asked the applicant to consider its comments and eventually the commission would let them know about next steps. In short, it’s back to the drawing board. “Certainly the commission is supportive of some development here, the question is what,” said chair Sarah Carroll. “This approach [the tower-on-a-base typology] is not at a point where anyone is comfortable right now.”
One by one, the commissioners gave their impressions of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designs for the site, owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation, and overall there were very few comments that supported the current plans for 250 Water. While the applicants argued that the site was on the edge of the historic district and therefore could reflect the built context of the towers surrounding it, the commissioners noted that “it’s either in or out — there’s no ‘on the edge’ where we have a different standard.”
To allow the towers to “invade the district’s sky space…would be a literal violation of the district’s defining unifying qualities,” said Commissioner Michael Goldblum.
Carroll noted at the top of the meeting that while there were two proposals to consider — 250 Water and 175 John — the financial connection between the two, where HHC will build the new museum and give it $50 million as an endowment, could not be within the scope of the commission’s review. The project will also include 100 units of affordable housing. “These considerations, while laudable, are not factors that we can consider or rely on in determining whether the designs for the 250 Water Street site or the John Street site are appropriate.”
Nearly all the commissioners supported the design for 175 John — even giving way on the copper cladding, which will change color over time until it is green.
Carroll also wanted to clear the record on the number of proposals the commission has reviewed for 250 Water: the total was four, all of which were received between 30 and 38 years ago. Three were rejected and the fourth and last, a 1991 proposal from Charles A. Platt for a 10-story building, was approved.
All agreed that this particular site is rare — not only has it been empty for decades, it is also the biggest empty lot by nearly two times in any historic district in the city. Still is not meant to be a transition, said one commissioner, Jeanne Lufty, rather it’s supposed to “still feel like we are stepping into a historic area.”
“When you cross Pearl Street you have a completely different sensation,” she noted of the walk from the dark canyons of Fidi to the Seaport. “It’s almost like the weight of the world has been taken off your shoulders.”
EMILY HIGGINBOTHAM /15 JAN 2021 | 04:17
The Landmark Preservation Commission declined to take action on the Howard Hughes Corporation’s applications for development in the Seaport this week after commissioners aired concerns regarding the height of the proposed high-rise.
The lack of a decision was a blow to HHC’s plans as it needs the commission to rubber stamp any proposal to build within the South Street Seaport Historic District. The developer will now likely need to go back to the drawing board to come up with a design the LPC deems appropriate for the district, lengthening an already arduous approval process.
The proposal in question includes two separate developments in the seaport: a pair of 470-foot towers consisting of a mix of affordable housing units and market-rate condos at 250 Water Street and a new building for the South Street Seaport Museum at nearby 173-69 John Street. The pairing of these two projects by HHC has been a point of contention for seaport residents, which came to a head the previous week when the public testified in a lengthy public hearing.
Opponents say the developer has created a false choice that the HHC project is the only way to save the long-suffering museum, and they have doubts that the designs for the museum would ever materialize in physical brick and mortar since the $50 million HHC said it would invest in the museum would not necessarily fund constructing the new headquarters – $10 million would be used to renovate the existing building and the rest would be put in an endowment. Plus, they find the proposed high-rise to be too tall and out of context with the low-rise historic district, where zoning rules say buildings cannot rise above 120 feet.
Supporters of the project, however, have faith that HHC will follow through with their plans for the museum, saying the money will allow for the organization to open its doors for the first time since Hurricane Sandy. They also say the project would bring to the neighborhood much-needed housing, more business and prosperity while making use of a parcel that currently functions as a parking lot.
The LPC, though, were instructed not to consider community benefits or issues of zoning in their review of the applications. Chair Sarah Carroll reminded her fellow commissioners that their role is to protect and safeguard the district’s historic aesthetic, stabilize and improve property value, foster civic pride in accomplishments of the past, enhance tourism, improve the city’s economy, and promote the use of historic districts for education, pleasure and welfare of the people of the city.
In the discussion that followed, there seemed to be a clear consensus that while the commissioners were for the most part pleased with the design for the museum, they were not sold on the design for 250 Water Street and had serious concerns regarding the proposed height.
Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy called the museum design a “terrific piece of architecture,” but said she was not impressed with the high-rise.
“SOM is a very talented firm, and I don’t think that that this project is one that measures up to what they could do here,” Lutfy said of SOM Designs, which drew up the plans for both proposals. “I think there’s something very – and I hate to use this word – it’s just almost standardized about how this project looks. And for a project to have such an incredible presence in this streetscape, I feel like they need to they need to take another look at that.”
Lutfy also talked about the importance of preserving the feeling of walking into the seaport from the “dark canyon” of Lower Manhattan.
“When you cross Pearl Street, and you walk into the district, you have a completely different sensation,” said Lutfy. “It’s almost like the weight of the world is being taken off your shoulders. It’s something that when we look at this proposal that we need to keep in mind.”
Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron said she believed it was important to consider the zoning rules of the district and past precedent, as the LPC did not approve four previous proposals for 250 Water Street that were of significant height before a 2003 zoning rule outlawed high-rise development in the district.
“I’m finding it really difficult to come up with a good reason to depart from their assessments,” said Shamir-Baron of previous LPC decisions. “So I really can’t see or understand what might have us approve such a tall, 400-plus-foot development at this site.”
Open to Development
Several commissioners said that they are open to development at this site, and even open to the prospect of development that’s taller than the existing buildings, but the question would be how much height and how it would be configured.
The Seaport Coalition, which is a grassroots organization made up of various community groups, thanked the LPC for its “no action” decision.
“The Seaport Coalition thanks the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission for their endurance and their thoughtful consideration of last week’s public hearing where we presented 7,000 petition signatories, about 100 speakers and 200 letters in opposition, in nine hours of testimony to defend the neighborhood ‘where New York began,’” the coalition said in a statement.
A HHC spokesperson also in a statement thanked the LPC for the commissioners’ feedback on the company’s proposal. The spokesperson did not directly respond to the question of whether the developer would be open to revising the height of its proposal, but said HHC looks forward to returning to the commission.
“An appropriate building on the site of the parking lot at 250 Water Street can save the Seaport Museum - the soul of the Historic District and reason for its creation - and provide Lower Manhattan’s most significant affordable housing in decades,” said a spokesperson. “Now more than ever, it’s important to continue our efforts to make this $1.4 billion investment in the Historic Seaport, Lower Manhattan and the city.”
It’s not yet clear when HHC will return to present to the LPC, but the developer will need the commission’s approval before moving forward. Additionally, the Economic Development Corporation will review before the proposal ultimately goes through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
“When you ... walk into the district, you have a completely different sensation. It’s almost like the weight of the world is being taken off your shoulders. It’s something that when we look at this proposal that we need to keep in mind.”
Commissioner Jeanne Lutfy
January 14, 2021 Miriam Hall, Biznow New York CIty
HHC plans to build 350 condos across two skyscrapers on Water Street in Lower Manhattan have hit a major snag.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission did not approve the Houston-based developer's proposal, concluding the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Architects’ design, which would bring two 470-foot-high towers to 250 Water St., is too large for the area, The Tribeca Trib reported.One panelist said the building would “invade the district’s sky space," per the publication.“We appreciate the LPC’s thoughtful feedback and look forward to returning soon to the commission,” a Howard Hughes Corp. spokesperson said in a statement.While the panel took no formal action, it was clear that the proposal wouldn't go forward in its current state.Along with the development of the condos, the plans call for 100 below-market-rate rentals under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rules. Howard Hughes bought the vacant lot for the site in 2018 for $180M. The $1.4B proposal stretches some 350 feet higher than local zoning rules allow.Howard Hughes would provide $50M to the South Street Seaport Museum along with an eventual approval. An earlier plan for a 1,000-foot tower on the site was met with community blowback, and LPC has previously rejected nine plans for the site, according to The Wall Street Journal. In December, Manhattan’s Community Board 1 voted against the project, following widespread concern from local residents about the height and contamination issues at the site. At the LPC hearing, Downtown Alliance President Jessica Lappin told the commission that the plan should receive support because of the sorely needed funds it would supply to the museum.LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said the “laudable” benefits to the museum should not be considered when assessing whether the proposed design of the project is appropriate.Contact Miriam Hall at email@example.com
Carl Glassman January 13, 2021
The Landmarks Preservation Commission dealt a blow to Howard Hughes Corp.’s controversial proposal to build two 470-foot-high towers at 250 Water Street in the South Street Seaport Historic District.
Opining on the application at its meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners said the towers were out of scale with the historic neighborhood and would, in the words of one, “invade the district’s sky space.”
The commission took no action on the proposal, which the Hughes Corp. (HHC) coupled with the design for an extension of the South Street Seaport Museum on John Street that the museum hopes one day to bring to life through fundraising.
The proposed 360-unit residential condo towers, with about 100 below-market rentals, would stand on a low-rise base meant to fit in with the look and scale of the historic district. While the base design drew mixed reviews from the commissioners—and the prospective museum extension for John Street was largely praised—the towering apartment buildings were roundly rejected. Commissioners even questioned the very concept of two towers atop a base.
So now it’s back to the drawing board for the project’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architects.
In a statement, a Howard Hughes Corp. spokesperson said, “We appreciate the LPC’s thoughtful feedback and look forward to returning soon to the commission.”
The proposed 250 Water Street project towers over the mostly 5-story buildings in the district and is nearly four times taller than the current 120-foot zoning height limit. Along with a zoning change, the building would require the transfer of air rights from other Seaport properties, now restricted by the city. Besides an approval from the Landmarks Commission, the project must go through an environmental and land use review.
The developer is linking the project’s fortunes to the fate of the struggling South Street Seaport Museum, and a promised $50 million endowment to the institution if it succeeds. The project draws much of its public support from museum advocates who cite the Seaport Museum’s value to the Seaport and its critical funding needs.
“The museum’s unique tie to the district and this proposal’s unique ability to save it should make this plan worthy of your support,” Downtown Alliance president Jessica Lappin told the commission at a Jan. 5 hearing.
But at the outset of the commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Sarah Carroll, the chair, made it clear that the benefits to the museum, “while laudable are not factors that we can consider or rely on in determining whether the proposed designs for the 250 Water St. site and John Street site are appropriate.”
Chris Cooper, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s principal architect on the project, argued that the size of the 250 Water Street site is unique for a historic district, and its location at the district’s far end, bordered by Peck Slip, and Pearl, Water and Beekman Streets, should be evaluated in the context of taller buildings outside the landmarked area. “The site is an anomaly in any landmark district,” he told the commission. “It’s a full city block with no historic structures on this block. It’s the largest empty site by more than double of any lot in a landmark district.”
While it’s unclear how big an acceptable building might be to them, the commissioners concurred that these proposed structures are too tall, regardless of the lot’s size or where they stand in the historic district.
“If this lot had not been in the district in the first place then you could do whatever you want and that’s perfectly fine,” said Commissioner John Gustafsson. “But that’s not where we are. It is part of the district. It’s either in or it’s out.”
Right now it’s overwhelming,” said Commissioner Everardo Jefferson.
Commissioner Michael Goldblum went further. “Can any towers be built on this site?” he said. “I don’t think so.”
Those comments largely echo the objections of opponents, whose numbers include preservation organizations, Community Board 1 and the Seaport Coalition, a group representing Southbridge Towers, Children First and Save Our Seaport. More than 7,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the project.
Facing intense opposition in 2014, HHC scuttled plans for what first had been a 650-foot, then a 495-foot-high tower on the site of the New Market Building, next to Pier 17 and just outside the historic district. The main lure to the community then, a promised 71,000-square-foot middle school at its base, could not win over opponents. Four years later the developer bought 250 Water Street for $180 million from Milstein Properties, a developer that had failed over the years to win approvals for a tall building on the site. The one approved plan, for a 10-story building, was never built.
As she sent HHC’s architects off to rethink their proposal, commission chair Carroll summed up the decades-long challenge of 250 Water Street.
“The commission would be supportive of some development here,” she said. “And really, the question is, what?”
Historic Districts Council
The Historic Districts Council expressed concerns over the scale of the towers at 250 Water Street as well as the design of the new museum space at 89 South Street, which is also currently vacant.
“We feel quite strongly that this conceptual plan is a Trojan Horse, with the hidden cost of irreparably damaging the historic district and setting a dreadful precedent for the regulation of historic districts in New York City going forward,” Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the HDC, testified on Tuesday.
Regarding the two towers, Bankoff called the proposal a “truly monstrous edifice.” He added: “The applicants are not driven to propose this plan by a need to ‘complete the historic district’ or by a deeper understanding of what previous Landmarks Commissions intended – they want to make the most money remotely possible from their investment.”s proposal is inappropriate for the South Street Seaport Historic District due to its sheer scale and should be rejected upon that basis alone.
No towers in the Seaport District
Manhattan: We were disappointed to read your knee-jerk editorial (“Keep building,” Dec. 26) supporting the inappropriate, out-of-scale, and quite likely illegal 470-foot towers proposed by the Howard Hughes Corporation for the South Street Seaport Historic District. The design has nothing to do with the area’s historic architecture; there is more to appropriateness than a brick facade.
The site at 250 Water St. was included within the boundaries of the historic district designated in 1977. It was vacant even then, which meant that the Landmarks Preservation Commission intended to regulate whatever new construction was proposed. Second, the lot was rezoned in 2003 specifically to prevent the out-of-scale development now proposed. Clearly, the city intended to limit height and bulk there. Howard Hughes is requesting approval from the LPC for a building that cannot be built without a zoning variance, which has not been granted.
Finally, this proposal calls for the unprecedented transfer of development rights from within the historic district to another site in the district. The legality of this maneuver is doubtful.
As tempting as a $50 million donation to the South Street Seaport Museum may be, it is, alas, irrelevant to the question before the LPC. Would that the city had generously supported this worthy museum instead of starving it. And would that the city listened to its citizens rather than serving special interests.
Jeffrey A. Kroessler, president, The City Club of New York
The Seaport's Dillema
The Howard Hughes Corporation presented development plans for the South Street Seaport Historic District during a Community Board 1 landmarks and preservation committee meeting last week, which included the construction of two 470-foot towers consisting of a mix of affordable housing units and market-rate condos as well as plans for a new building for the long suffering South Street Seaport Museum.
But it did not become clear to many committee members until the final 15 minutes of the nearly 5-hour meeting that the $50 million HHC said it would invest in the museum would not necessarily fund constructing the new headquarters plotted for the corner of John and South Streets. ...
Your recent story about the Howard Hughes (HHC) plan to build two new 47 story towers in the South Street Seaport relied a bit too heavily on the very slanted press release put out by HHC with the assistance of their high paid PR consultants. Not until the 8th paragraph did you report the key element making these buildings so controversial and inappropriate… that they are proposed to be built within the 10 block South Street Seaport Historic District.
Nor did you mention that nine prior proposals to build far smaller buildings in this special district characterized by 4 and 5 story buildings were all denied by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) because they would “dominate and overwhelm the neighboring buildings in this low scale district by virtue of its size” and “cause an abrupt change in scale within the district which would be disruptive of the district’s homogeneous quality.” The 12 story height limit agreed to in 2003 which would allow for a building at 250 Water St that would be properly scaled for this historic district, was supported by entities ranging from CB 1, local elected officials, the Downtown Alliance, EDC, the City Planning Commission, and the South Street Seaport Museum. If two 47 story buildings were proposed elsewhere in Lower Manhattan, no one would object just like no one objects to far larger supertowers going up a block or two outside the Seaport Historic District.
You also failed to mention that the Seaport Historic District has a special mechanism that allows for the transfer of unused development rights (aka air rights) to sites outside the Historic District that could easily generate far more affordable housing and funding for the Seaport Museum and for other needed local improvements than the HHC plan. That is a far better plan to assure the future of the Seaport Museum and Historic District.
— Paul Goldstein
To Jonathan Boulware, President of the South Street Seaport Museum:
Your urgent calls to save the South Street Seaport Museum has our community’s full support and attention. Together, we know we can assure the future of the beloved seafaring sanctuary. But we urge caution with the bedfellows that you and the museum’s Board of Trustees are choosing.
Time and again, New York City depends on unreliable outside investors to do what we should (and can) do on our own. The Texas-based Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC), is trying to secure approvals for a development in the South Street Seaport Historic District that includes two towers nearly four times taller than zoning allows. If approved, the development’s malformed plans for the full-block site at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge will have long-term detrimental consequences to the neighborhood, the city, and the nation.
You, along with the museum’s Board of Trustees, and HHC present a false ultimatum between maintaining the integrity of the Historic District and the future of the museum. Fortunately, there is an air rights funding mechanism already in place, and a community based plan (backed by Community Board 1) that provides a better solution to the museum’s dilemma.
Our Seaport Coalition has offered viable alternative plan(s) to revitalize the birthplace of New York City without placing a bullseye on this and every historic district. Our plan utilizes the already existing mechanism that moves unused Seaport development rights to sites outside the Historic District. It has worked well in the past and can surely be used now to help not only the Museum, but to also pay for other local improvements and create far more than the 100 affordable housing units promised by HHC. Our Seaport Coalition enthusiastically supports any development with deeply affordable housing that also respects the long-existing zoning of 120 feet in height. https://seaportcoalition.com/
The HHC plan for twin 47-story-tall towers would pierce the protected 10-block area, a living museum consisting of early 19th century 4- and 5-story buildings and cobblestone streets. These towers would dwarf the Brooklyn Bridge and dominate the district, stealing the air and sky city dwellers desperately need.
Please, Mr. Boulware, choose to work with the people who have tirelessly volunteered for decades to keep the museum running. We beg you to band with the community, not this untrustworthy developer, to keep the museum about the people, the history and the Seaport as a whole.
We insist that development at 250 Water Street conform to the zoning laws, and viable alternatives be taken seriously. Accepting the oversized project in the tiny and irreplaceable historic district is a bad bargain. It will squander public assets for the benefit of private developers. New Yorkers, and the Seaport community have integrity and grit enough to rebuild, protect historic places AND provide more accessible housing. Let’s face these historic times together.
— The Seaport Coalition
Schermerhorn Row -1980 . These six buildings were constructed between 1810 and 1812 by Peter Schermerhorn, a merchant and ship owner. Built on landfill that extended 600 feet from the original shoreline, they were used as storefronts on the ground floor, counting houses on the second, and storage on the third.
By mid-19th century, the seaport was the center of commerce in the city, as the Port of New York became one of the largest in the world. Schermerhorn Row would be converted into hotels and boarding houses to accommodate newly arriving immigrants and overseas merchants.
The state purchased Schermerhorn Row in 1974 and a landmark designation three years later halted any further encroachment of the financial district which had occupied most of the blocks as east as South Street over the past decade. The buildings were restored to their original 1810 design and repurposed for adaptive reuse including commercial space and exhibition areas.
Hoboken’s largest park will provide recreation and public space for our community. It will also be a fundamental part of Hoboken’s resiliency strategy by integrating green infrastructure and innovative stormwater management measures to mitigate flooding from rainfall events. The park will foster a healthier environment for all to enjoy.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of NYC's food loving city folks - the Fulton Stall Market is making through the pandemic, providing fresh locally produced food to the neighborhood AND supporting over 100 farmers and producers across NY State.With the $160,000 grant from the USDA, the Fulton Stall Market will offer on-line ordering, virtual farm tours, food demonstrations and educational workshops by regional farmers, food and craft beverage producers. Sign up for their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and have your groceries / heat and serve waiting for you! CSA: https://fultonstallmarket.org/csaUSDA Grant: https://fultonstallmarket.org/news
The Paris Cafe at South Street Seaport is no more. After being in business since 1873 and surviving the numerous trials and tragedies of history, including a comeback from Hurricane Sandy, it could not survive the coronavirus shutdown of the city.
look at this shadow study. Now imagine twin 400 ft towers in the Historic South Street Seaport. HHC can say that the lower portion fits in with the neighborhood, but the upper part is not invisible - those additional 80 plus stories will cast deep shadows putting much of the neighborhood in a perpetual cloudy day.
“It’s a unique and unusual place,” said David Sheldon, a sailor who mans the South Street Seaport Museum’s fleet. “You get off a train and walk into another century.”
Residents of a historic neighborhood have been trying to preserve its character as major building projects loom. Now the discovery of a 19th-century thermometer factory there has further complicated matters
If you haven't seen their interactive map... you should!
All we want is to keep what little bit of 'green' we have in the South Street Historic District. There is very little left!
National Trust For Historic Preservation
America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places® is an annual list that spotlights important examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.
As a decade of conflict about development at the South Street Seaport comes to a close, community groups in the area have united around a strategic plan for ensuring a viable future.
Proposed by the Seaport Coalition - an all-volunteer combination of Save Our Seaport, SouthBridge Towers and ChildrenFirst - the plan is aimed to meet a host of challenges: over-development, toxic remediation, historic preservation, cultural stewardship and climate change.
A parking lot near the South Street Seaport has come to underscore the tensions between area residents and real estate developers over the future of the neighborhood.
The Howard Hughes Corporation has expressed an interest in transferring development rights from three high-profile properties to 250 Water Street, which sits above the toxic remnants of a 19th-century thermometer factory.