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Pier 40/St. John’s Deal — A Win-Win with Lessons to Learn

On December 15, 2016, the City Council approved a zoning change for the St. John’s Terminal site at West and Houston Streets that included a series of neighborhood protections and mitigations that GVSHP demanded. These included an agreement with the City for landmarking the final phase of GVSHP’s proposed South Village Historic District, restrictions on the transfer of Hudson River Park air rights, and an elimination of all planned big box and destination retail stores from the proposed development.   Some of these neighborhood protections had been opposed by Mayors for over a decade, and provided inoculation against future overdevelopment possibilities that would pay dividends for decades to come.

Aeriel view showing Pier 40, the St. John’s Terminal site, and the adjacent South and West Village.

There are many instructive parallels between this win-win success and the current campaign to secure zoning protections as the conditions for the approval of a Tech Hub on East 14th Street

Under the deal approved in 2016, a very large new development will be built on the three-block St. John’s Terminal site. But without the deal, a very large development could have and undoubtedly would have been built at this site anyway.  Without this deal, such a development would have been 100% commercial (offices, hotel, event space, large retail) which would have been vastly more impactful than the approved largely residential development.  Without this deal, there would have been no height limits to new development on site, and thus it could have been significantly taller than what will be built. And without this deal, there would be no outdoor or indoor public space provided, no affordable housing included (this plan includes 550 units of permanent affordable housing for seniors) and no money for repair of Pier 40 and its playing fields.  This op-ed by our Executive Director explains this win-win case in more detail.

At first, the administration adamantly refused any of the sensible mitigating actions we proposed for the surrounding neighborhood.  It took thousands of residents attending meetings and writing letters and emails, a supportive Community Board 2, and the leadership of City Councilmember Corey Johnson to stand up to the Mayor and for the local community.

Supporters attended many meetings.

The Pier 40/St John’s deal required a rezoning.  So to obtain that approval the Mayor so dearly wanted he, he needed the approval of the City Council.  The Council almost always defers to the local City Councilmember on local land use issues, and thus we were able to convince our Councilmember in that neighborhood, Corey Johnson, to make clear to the Mayor that the only way he would get approval for this rezoning is if these far-reaching and desperately needed protections and mitigations were also included. It only happened because of the engagement of our members, supporters, and allies who wrote, testified and rallied – they made this possible!  And of course with special thanks to Community Board #2 for its leadership on this, and most especially to Councilmember Corey Johnson, who negotiated the deal, balancing many different interests and forcefully advocating for our concerns.

A collage of images of the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District.

One year later on the east side, we are facing a similar situation, and last year’s experience shows what is possible.  The Mayor has proposed a huge “Tech Hub” on East 14th Street east of 4th Avenue where a PC Richards store currently stands.  He needs approval for the commercial upzoning the project requires.  We have already been demanding zoning protections to prevent further rampant commercial overdevelopment in the adjacent area along University Place, Broadway, 3rd and 4th Avenues — an area the real estate industry has labeled the next “Silicon Alley.” Now we have the opportunity to achieve this goal.

Rally against Silicon Alley, November 2017.

Fortunately, just this week the Land Use/Zoning committee of Community Board 3 passed a resolution supporting zoning changes for 3rd and 4th Avenues, and Community Board 2 is long on record supporting needed changes along the University Place and Broadway corridors. Both areas will be represented by Carlina Rivera starting January 1, 2018, who has committed to supporting these proposals.  The Pier 40/St Johns deal achieved one year ago today shows what is possible with strong advocacy and strong leadership in the face of real estate pressures.  Join us by taking these 3 actions below.

Thank Councilmember-elect Carlina Rivera for pledging to stand firm with the community and ONLY approving the Tech Hub plan IF protections for the surrounding community come along with it, and let her know you will support her in that fight!

Send a message to the Mayor that our neighborhoods need zoning protections and are not meant for high-rise condos or huge office or hotel developments:

Send a message to the Borough President that she MUST condition her support for the Tech Hub on zoning protections for the surrounding neighborhood:

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