West Village residents appear increasingly resigned to a massive development project that would save a crumbling but valuable and heavily-used Hudson River pier. Some locals haven't exactly been enthusiastic about the plan so far, but many grudgingly accepted the waterfront's fate at last night's Community Board 2 meeting, where many spoke in favor of selling the air rights at Pier 40 at Hudson River Park to a group planning an enormous development on the old St. John's Terminal site. The deal would pay for necessary repairs at Pier 40, and though locals admitted that the deal isn't perfect, some argued that it's worth doing to save their beloved pier from sinking into the Hudson River.
The terminal, a three-story, 1.1 million square foot property that has long sat vacant, sits just across the street from the decaying Pier 40. In a negotiation that has been at least four years in the making, developers Westbrook Partners and Atlas Capital Group L.L.C. proposed last October that they would purchase the unused development air rights from the Hudson River Park for $100 million, almost the exact price needed to fix failing pilings underneath the pier.
Once those air rights are secured, a towering development will rise on the site of the old terminal, with 1,586 residential units, 772 parking spaces, and 10,000 square feet of retail. 30% of the residential buildings will be designated as a combination of affordable housing and affordable senior housing.
Though no one who spoke last night was happy about helping facilitate what the board's resolution called the "largest development in the district's history," most seemed to feel that saving the pier is worth dramatically changing that portion of the waterfront.
Isaac-Daniel Astrachan, a father of a 13-year-old who plays soccer at Pier 40, asked those gathered, "Does anyone here have $100 million to donate? No. Do our local and state representatives have the necessary 100 million? No. Is this a perfect plan? No...It is ironic that living in one of the wealthiest areas on the planet, we as a community have to choose between more development to save playing fields and the probability of the loss of those fields."
Still, a few residents last night explicitly opposed selling the air rights, worried that doing so would ruin the future of the neighborhood and set a dangerous precedent of making the sale of air rights along the river commonplace.
"I am afraid that a lot of people here are being hoodwinked," said Allison Tupper. "$100 million will not support Pier 40 for the long term, maybe not even for the short term. Once we sell air rights this will set the precedent. We have to stop it now. And saying only this once won't do. It won't be only this once."
The conditions outlined in the board's letter of support include implementing the final phase of the South Village Historic District (which would add the area between Houston, Watts, W. Broadway and 6th Avenue to the district), lowering the number of parking spaces from 772 to 317, and guaranteeing that there will be no big box stores or destination retailers in the development.
The board ultimately voted unanimously (with one abstention) to approve the air rights sale. The project still has to go through the lengthy ULURP process, and the board's vote isn't binding, but the board's support means the project likely won't face significant community opposition going forward.
When reached for comment, a representative of the Hudson River Park Trust said that "for us, this project is all about making critical repairs to keep a vital community asset open, so we're pleased to officially have the Community Board's support as the process moves forward."
But others gave the news a more lukewarm reception. Judith Powell, Executive Director of the Pier, Park and Playground Association summed up the sentiments of many last night when she said, "I guess there's an old saying: 'the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.' And many people have spoken to [the fact that] perhaps this isn't the most elegant solution. But it is a solution."