Madam Chair and Board Members,
Our SEAPORT COALITION thanks you for the opportunity to testify yet again in opposition to the Howard Hughes Corporations’ latest revision to their 250 Water Street design.
The Seaport Coalition is speaking tonight on behalf of 10,000 petition signers, thousands of Facebook followers, Instagram and Twitter friends, hundreds of residents in the South Street Seaport Historic District and SouthBridge Towers, school parents and Children First members, thousands of SAVE OUR SEAPORT supporters from all over the metropolitan area, including sailors, tourists, expats and preservationists literally from all over the world.
We are asking you to respect the existing zoning height limitation of 120’ feet that was the result of a “compromise” back in 2003. Community Board One initiated the down-zoning process to ensure that any new construction was appropriate for the historic district with it’s 4-5 story buildings dating back to the 18th century.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission must determine the “appropriateness of design” within an Historic District. It is beyond question that 250 Water Street is located inside the Historic District. There is no such thing as, “on the perimeter, or on the edge of the district.” As the saying goes, “you are either pregnant or you are not pregnant.” 250 Water is IN the district, therefore all historic preservation rules are applied equally to every square inch of the district. This design would reduce the historic district by an entire city block, representing 10% of the whole district.
Pushing the towers from one part of the district to another part of the district - solves nothing. The fact that the towers have been set back further towards Pearl Street cannot erase the reality that Pearl Street is part of the Historic District and was once known as Queen Street because of its prominent role in 18th and 19th Century commerce fueled by our great Seaport.
It is debatable whether the base of the building is better than before or if it’s even contextual or not - and it doesn’t matter - it is still attached to the towers above and is still completely inappropriate for the district.
This new plan put forward by the Howard Hughes corporation would still overwhelm the Historic district. This revised design exceeds the height limit by 225 ft., and exceeds the available FAR by 237,000 sq. ft. This design is not aesthetically pleasing, it does not speak to the district, it is not contextual, nor unique, nor appropriate. Even a simple Google search brought up at least four almost identical buildings in Manhattan.
The statement that this is a mere parking lot and an eyesore in the neighborhood is not the fault of the community; it is the fault of ownership. The former owners were explicitly told an economically viable project could be built within the height limit at 250 Water. In fact, an 11-story office tower was approved but they refused to build it, opting instead to keep it a parking lot - much to the chagrin of the neighborhood.
Howard Hughes knew exactly what they were buying when they bought it. They knew full well that the height limit of 120 ft. had been challenged and upheld in court.
You will hear “save the museum” and “affordable housing” peppered throughout the testimonies tonight. We respectfully ask that you ignore them not because they are not important, but because they are not within the LPC purview and are not allowed to be considered in the context of this application.
In summary, our SEAPORT COALITION asks that CB1 resolves that any design that exceeds the current zoning will harm the fragile South Street Seaport Historic District. The Howard Hughes Corporation is literally spending millions of dollars on architects, public relation specialists, on lobbyists and on lawyers to sway public opinion. They have sent “Dear Neighbor” mailings based on purchased voter registration lists, they have held the South Street Seaport Museum “hostage” to an unsigned financial promise, and designed an “imaginary building” on a John Street lot that neither HHC nor the Museum controls.
We welcome appropriate development that follows the downzoning of 2003 that CB1 initiated. And we reiterate that we will not accept any compromise on the height of development.
Thank you for your attention and efforts to SAVE OUR SEAPORT, placing the needs of CHILDREN FIRST, and paying attention to local residents including SOUTHBRIDGE TOWERS, to defend and protect the South Street Seaport Historic District.