City Planning Hearing on Hudson River “Air Rights” Transfer to Development Wednesday, August 24th

Pier 40 Hudson River
Pier 40 Hudson River
Pier 40

I remember the walkway along the Hudson River before it was a “park.” It was my favorite place to walk. There were quirky things along it that were whimsical, not manicured; gritty, not sanitized. I would enter at West 12th Street and head south: mornings, evenings, weekends, that was my place to go and decompress, stare at the water, people-watch, nature-watch. I never felt unsafe there (this was in the 90s). When I learned of the plans for it – to be redone and excessively landscaped – I thought… why? Of course, there may have been some benefits to parts of the idea but it is all about the implementation, isn’t it?

Now, the creation and possible mismanagement of this overdone “park” is set to open the floodgates to even more development in the West Village with the selling of its “air rights” to nearby buildings so they can loom even higher.

And this does not just impact the Village. As writer/advocate, Brooklynite Mitchel Cohen wrote: “I just learned about this issue. It involves transfers of air rights from public waterways. It is an absolutely awful idea that will have far reaching implications, including where I live in southern Brooklyn, and in lots of other places too. Once the precedent is set, it makes it easier for this to happen in other shoreline communities.”

The reason this is even an issue? Hudson River Park Trust President and CEO Madelyn Wils has said: “the original estimates for maintenance [of the park from 1998] were not sufficient.”

Honestly, I thought this was a fait accompli (which it may very well be). But, now the issue is – at last – coming before the City Planning Commission with a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, August 24th.

A notification from Marcy Benstock of the Clean Air Campaign/Open Rivers Project:

WED. AUGUST 24th–THE MOST IMPORTANT CITY PLANNING HEARING in years for speaking out to save the Hudson River and other waterways, and to save our neighborhoods from ruinous development!

Urge NYC’s City Planning Commission (CPC) to DISAPPROVE “air rights” transfers from the Hudson River (starting with Pier 40) PREVENT DISASTROUS PRECEDENTS!

PLACE: 22 Reade Street, Spector Hall (between Broadway and Lafayette), Manhattan

TIME: 8/24/16 at 10 a.m. Should last for hours. 2-3 minutes for most speakers.

SAY: I urge CPC to disapprove any “air rights” transfers from Pier 40 in the Hudson River to the mega-development proposed for 550 Washington St. — or any other “air rights” transfers from public waterways. [See more points below.*]

City Planning is having its sole public hearing 8/24/16 on a package of proposals (“ULURP #N16030-8 ZRM” etc.) to allow the “Hudson River Park Trust” (HRPT, the development authority pushing to build more real estate in up to 490 acres of the Hudson River) to sell or transfer alleged “air rights” (unused development rights) from Pier 40 in the River to the developers of 550 Washington St., across from Pier 40. HRPT would use the $100 million from this “sale” to rebuild Pier 40 for office space and other non-water-dependent uses offshore.

In return, 550 Washington St.’s developers could make their planned mega-development even bigger.

If CPC and the City Council approve this package, it will be the model for more “special districts” from Battery Park City to W. 59th St. (both land and water)–and then most likely for unleashing “air rights” from other NYC waterways to land who-knows-where.

*More possible talking points for the 8/24/16 hearing (but use your own words):

*Public waterways like the Hudson River have no “air rights” (development rights) that anyone has a right to sell or transfer to onshore developers. The water belongs to all the people under common law and Federal statutes.

*The Hudson’s nearshore waters (including Pier 40) are in a #1 (highest risk) hurricane evacuation zone. So siting office space and other non-water-dependent uses at Pier 40 and in the rest of the River would increase the risk of injuries and/or deaths and costly property damage from increasingly severe and frequent storms and hurricanes.

*Besides undermining public safety, the air rights transfer deal would lead to two walls of view-blocking buildings in and along the River. The buildings in the Hudson River would divert disaster aid from the rest of the City, while paying no real estate taxes to NYC.

*Massive environmental destruction will follow if this ruinous model is approved for financing habitat-destroying projects in nearshore waters, since nearshore habitats are essential for sustaining coastal fisheries.

Opposing the “air rights” transfer scheme are environmental groups and others who hope to save invaluable marine habitats, preserve river views, keep neighbors from being forced out by luxury condos, and prevent storm damage.

The main supporters are HRPT and HRPT’s allies; advocates for soccer fields on Pier 40, rather than at higher, safer upland locations; and groups hoping to get “protections” (likely to prove illusory) in exchange for supporting a transfer scheme.

HRPT plans to have a “concurrent” hearing with CPC’s in the same room. It’s crucial for our side to turn out lots of new speakers who say NO AIR RIGHTS TRANSFERS FROM PUBLIC WATERWAYS. Numbers count–please show up, sign up for the CPC (not HRPT) hearing, and wait as long as you can for your name to be called to speak..

For more information: Clean Air Campaign, Open Rivers Project, 212-582-2578.

* * *

I know they don’t consider the Hudson River Park Trust a private entity per se – it is considered “a public benefit corporation,” a “partnership between New York State and City” – but it sure operates like one with all the now well-recognized problems: lack of transparency, manipulation of information, selling off of the space to developers and real estate interests, change in use, etc.

Crain’s February 2, 2014: Hudson River Park Trust eyes air-rights rescue

Photo via Crain’s NY