Push to change park act heading down to the wire
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | As the state Legislature moves rapidly toward the final day of its legislative session, on Thurs., June 21, speculation remains whether changes will be made to the Hudson River Park Act to allow residential housing on Pier 40, among other changes to the act.
On Monday, Community Board 2’s Waterfront Committee passed a resolution — unanimously, by a vote of 8-0 — to support opening the park act for modifications. Arthur Schwartz, the committee’s chairperson, had hoped that, in a rarely seen procedure, the board’s Executive Committee would approve the resolution on Wednesday night, but the committee decided not to consider the matter. Had the Executive Committee approved it, it would have added heft to the resolution.
Although C.B. 2’s full board will meet on June 21, the meeting will likely be held after the Albany legislative session has adjourned earlier that same day. As a result, the Waterfront Committee’s unanimous vote stands as the board’s position on opening the park act, Schwartz said.
Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who has expressed her strong concern about allowing housing on Pier 40, must be won over if it is to be put into the act. Glick has said she might be amenable to other changes to the act that she called “minor.” But certain things the Hudson River Park Trust is requesting — such as bonding authority and longer-term leases for commercial uses on some of the park’s piers, in addition to residential use on Pier 40 — are “major” and need more public review, in Glick’s view.
In 1998, the Hudson River Park Act — which created the park — was passed despite the “No” vote of Glick. The act was approved at the 11th hour after a vote by the full board of C.B. 2 in support of the legislation — ironically, also on the last day of session in Albany. The Legislature was working late that night since it was back in the days before on-time budgets, so there was plenty on their plate that day. Glick did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
The Waterfront Committee resolution notes that Pier 40 — the sprawling 14.5-acre former Holland-America shipping pier at West Houston St. — “has become an integral part of our community’s life, providing green spaces, water access and recreational opportunities that were sorely lacking prior to its creation.”
In recent years, two efforts by the Trust to find developers for the pier have failed. After the first unsuccessful attempt, the pier’s huge central courtyard was turfed over with artificial grass in what was then called an “interim” use. But the sports field has become a permanent fixture and a home base for local youth sports leagues, Stuyvesant High School teams and others.
However, the pier needs $100 million in repairs, while the park itself — which is still uncompleted — is sinking into a deficit. The park is supposed to be financially self-sustaining, drawing much of its revenue from Pier 40, one of the waterfront park’s four main “commercial nodes.”
The Trust feels that the best way to save Pier 40 and finance its repair while generating income for the park is to change the park act to allow residential housing on the pier — specifically, 600 or more market-rate rental units — plus a 150-room, so-called boutique hotel, which is considered a relatively small-sized hotel.
The committee’s resolution states, “The best road forward for the development of Pier 40 is one which unleashes its revenue potential and the creativity of the business community, expands the pier’s open space features…and strengthens the role of the community in the decision-making, planning and building process to an extent beyond the current ULURP process.”
The Trust says the residential-and-hotel combo would bring in the highest revenue, with the least impact, in terms of traffic, when compared to other development scenarios, like destination retail, entertainment or office use.
The resolution notes that C.B. 2 stands behind the changes to the park act that the Trust is asking for. However, the resolution makes several caveats.
First, the resolution states, it would be preferable if the city and state support the park financially.
In addition, the resolution recommends that “at least 20 percent of the square footage allocated to residential development” on Pier 40 be for affordable housing.
Furthermore, the resolution recommends that the state Legislature and City Council be given the right, “in consultation with the park adjacent legislator” — referring to the assemblymembers or state senators whose districts contain specific parts of the park — to veto any project within 30 days of the completion of the ULURP review process. Schwartz referred to this as a “double-check” — meaning the ULURP public review process, plus the legislator’s veto.
The committee also endorsed another change requested by the Trust — that any revenue from future commercial development at Pier 76, at W. 36th St., go to the Trust for park use, rather than going to the city, as currently mandated by the park act.
The resolution supports giving the Trust bonding authority, as well as allowing it to issue leases longer than 30 years for Piers 40, 57 and 76.
C.B. 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman, who is stepping down from the board imminently to run for state Senate, spoke against passing the Waterfront Committee resolution at Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting.
“There was unanimous agreement that the board’s Executive Committee was not the appropriate venue to discuss this issue,” he said. “It’s important that the community board conducts its business with absolute transparency and sufficient public input, especially when considering crucial issues, such as determining potential new commercial uses in Hudson River Park.”
David Gruber, who is running for C.B. 2 chairperson to succeed Hoylman, said he personally didn’t think the Legislature would be voting on the proposed changes during this session.
“We’re not under the gun to pass the resolution,” he said.
The Trust, meanwhile, is still hoping the Legislature will act.
“The Trust is looking for flexibility on Pier 40 and needs more options to be considered,” said Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s president. “Lease terms need to be extended because there is no financing available for large-scale projects of this magnitude with 30-year terms. Bonding is necessary for public infrastructure. However, it is important to note that any new plan moving forward would still need to go through the ULURP process.”
The local youth sports leagues are all for opening up the park act and allowing more options for saving their essential sports facility.
“The families of Greenwich Village Little League are the ‘99 percent’ — not the individuals fighting against change,” said Daniel Miller, a past G.V.L.L. president. “We seem to be separated by generations. As a community of families that are supporting open space and ball fields for our youth, we must adjust to the new conditions that we are facing today. Thus we must be open to all options and possibilities so that we can then decide through a proper R.F.P. [‘request for proposals’ from developers] process what’s best for the health, the financial health, of our beloved pier park.”
Meanwhile, Ben Green, a founder of the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port, is dismayed at the residential housing concept. The Federation had opposed the creation of the current Hudson River Park, preferring instead an open, completely uncommercial park.
“I thought they would have at least waited until we were dead to do this,” he said.