Proposed Changes to Pier 40 & Hudson River Park – C.B. 2: We have “long-standing opposition to private control of open public space”

Relates to Threat of Privatization at Washington Square Park

Community Board 2 sent out an email last week about proposed changes to Pier 40 along the Hudson River – part of the Hudson River “Park” – that would allow a significant change in the form of the addition of an office building. This is about raising money by the private entity which runs it to fund the “park.”

Pier 40 encompasses over 14 acres and includes “a parking garage, sports facility, and former marine terminal located at the west end of Houston Street.”[*Wikipedia]

I walked almost daily the path along the Hudson River near Jane Street in the early 1990s through 2000 past Pier 40 – yes, there was a path to walk there along the water then – and I thought it was pretty great at the time, a little rough around the edges, sure. Not overly manicured as it is today. I am sure there were parts that needed repair but I have never understood the vast changes to it.

The “Hudson River Park Act” was passed in 1998. And now, these vast changes can apparently not be funded (this has been an issue for awhile) so suggestions like changing Pier 40 via “possible legislation to allow development of commercial offices” are now in play.

A forum was held last night (Tues. 5/28) by local elected officials including Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick, State Senators Brad Hoylman & Brian Kavanagh, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to address this.

When Community Board 2 got word of these potential changes in March, the Board drafted a resolution in late April opposing “amendment to the Hudson River Park Act to allow a commercial office use or a lease exceeding 30 years.” They then added some language in case the state goes ahead with this anyway to “mitigate.”

I excerpted some of the April resolution which Community Board 2 passed (Passed with 30 Board members in favor,
and 6 members in opposition – R. Kessler, S. Smith, R. Sanz, T. Conner, S. Aaron, S. Russo, and one abstention – D. Diether) below.

How this Relates to Washington Square Park and the Threat of Privatization

It’s important to note with regards to Community Board 2 how lax they have been about the Washington Square Park Conservancy and that private organization’s efforts to take over more and more of Washington Square Park and, as a result, minimizing what the New York City Parks Department has done with regards to this public space for many decades. I find this somewhat ironic that they are stating that they are against “private control of public space.”

The community fought long and hard to keep this public space public and it was only Community Board 2 and its negligence in 2013 that allowed private Washington Square Park Conservancy (fronting as a “little friends of the park group” with its four wealthy founding members saying that they had no clue what they were doing and only used the word ‘conservancy’ because “every other name [they looked at] was taken”) to get its foot in the door.

For the back story on this, please visit this page, Private Conservancy Watch.

Washington Square Park continues to be run by the NYC Parks Department – unlike its privatized Manhattan park neighbors – but without due diligence by the community/park users and the Community Board, it is easy to see how that can change. (More on this to come.)

Back to Hudson River Park and the C.B. 2 Resolution

Some additional points from C.B. 2’s April 22, 2019 resolution:

“Offices can be developed anywhere but when they are built on public land its potential public value is lost forever so it is short-sighted to permanently dispose of scarce opportunities for new open space while ongoing massive office and residential development on available private land continues to increase the need and demand for public open space. The Trust and its partners inside and outside government should no longer be reticent to fight to secure the public funding needed to assure the fullest achievement of the goals and opportunities of the park and should commit to protecting its irreplaceable resources from incompatible private development in keeping with the compromise hammered out when the Act was passed.

Pier 40 is a completely unique extraordinary and irreplaceable 15+ acre public open space resource. It is time to celebrate the good fortune of the past failures of bad plans to develop Pier 40. It is time to recognize that building a massive new office building at Pier 40 may be regretted for generations to come.

Demolition of the old building may allow development of commercial uses on a smaller footprint but adaptive reuse of the existing building is more consistent with community preferences for preservation and reuse. The courtyard ball field, the result of a massive community effort supported by CB2, is a wondrous wind-shielded space enjoyed year-round by thousands of young ball players.

While the existing building is not beautiful, as an old maritime building it is more place-appropriate than would be a modern 800-foot long 6-story office building.

Development of adaptive reuse would be less disruptive of current uses and less wasteful. Including the roofs it would provide substantially more opportunity for open space and indoor park uses than a six-story building. While providing less opportunity to create new openness to the river, it should allow for attractive and creative architectural solutions more consistent with neighborhood scale and character and possibly more attractive for many of the tech companies most likely to be interested in locating at Pier 40. It is therefore more likely to generate proposals that can win community support.

Such development will have grave, unforeseen, and irreversible impacts on the pier and the park and does not present a viable compromise as would a development with a mix including more sports, arts, and water related uses.”

HRP’s origins

Of note:

The Hudson River Park Act requires the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure [ULURP] for city owned sites but unreasonably denies appropriate public oversight on State owned properties such as Pier 40, leaving the details of any future subject to the vote of the Trust’s board which includes no representatives appointed by our [NYC] council members.

Read the full Community Board 2 resolution here.

* Source: Wikipedia on Pier 40

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