Mayor Eric Adams and the trust that oversees Governors Island have outlined a sweeping vision for its future as an innovation hub for climate education and research and an incubator for bold solutions. Teams from four universities are preparing final proposals, which are due on August 15th.
But a pending lawsuit presents a potential hang-up for those plans and the parties are due in state Supreme Court on Tuesday morning.
“They’re planning to turn the entire island into a research campus,” said Roger Manning, a musician and web designer who sued over the island’s rezoning last fall. “The park turns into a quad. It should stay public as much as possible and low-rise absolutely.”
Last year’s rezoning paved the way for 3.7 million square feet of new office, hotel, and retail space on the south part of the island, with buildings rising at most 125 to 225 feet, or around 14 stories. While the first phase of the project outlined in the existing request for proposals is soliciting ideas for a climate and resilience hub, the rezoning leaves open the possibility that additional commercial tenants could be brought in to redevelop other rezoned sites and rehab the historic district buildings.
Manning and others who oppose the island’s redevelopment argue the buildings the rezoning allowed for are too tall and will cast shadows across the open space. They bristle at the proposed 200 additional parking spots on the essentially car-free island and the displacement of the existing urban farm, though the Trust for Governors Island has promised to find it a new home.
A spokesperson for the trust pushed back on the opponents’ characterization, pointing to the more than 46 acres of green space that will remain open to the public on the southern half of the island and an additional 80 open acres on the northern half under the plan.
“The city has long envisioned the South Island Rezoning as a critical investment in the future of Governors Island as a resource for all New Yorkers, and the planned Climate Solutions Center is at the heart of that vision,” said the trust’s Sarah Krautheim. “We are fully confident that the rezoning was undertaken and approved in accordance with the law.”
In the lawsuit, Manning argued the rezoning violated the island’s original 2003 deed that required the city and state to "ensure the protection and preservation of the natural, cultural, and historic qualities of Governors Island," and to maintain a "an educational and civic resource of special historic character and as a recreational and open space resource." An updated lawsuit brought by additional lower Manhattan activists and community groups, raised qualms about the environmental review process.
The Tuesday court date comes just a few days ahead of when the trust is expected to receive final proposals for the island’s redevelopment from teams of planners at CUNY, the New School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and Stony Brook University.
Historic buildings on the northern part of the island have to be preserved, in accordance with restrictions in the deed, though the trust advertised an additional 1 million square feet of historic space that could be used for “education, office, hospitality, faculty housing, dormitories, cultural,” and other uses.
Manning admits their legal challenge likely faces an uphill battle. A Gowanus community tried to get the rezoning there overturned; but a judge scrapped the suit. A lawsuit over the SoHo-NoHo rezoning is still pending. Still, Manning said, it’s a fight worth having for the future of Governors Island.
“It serves best as a place with spaciousness and openness and greenness,” Manning said. “You really feel like you’re getting out of the city.”
Update: This story has been updated to clarify the acreage of open space planned for the island.