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Concerns Over Blocked Views Halt Changes at Pier 17

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A set of proposals for the mall underway at Pier 17 in the South Street Seaport are being held up by the Landmarks Preservation Commission over several issues, including concerns that a glass canopy that might block views of the Brooklyn Bridge (a hot topic these days). The new Pier 17 building was approved by the LPC more than three years ago, but ongoing redevelopment by developer Howard Hughes Corporation calls for a few additional changes to the new building, which is already under construction. These items are part of a much larger proposal affecting the South Street Seaport Historic District, and there have been many, many hours spent dissecting the plan over the last year.

Community Board 1 had weighed in on the whole shebang, which includes moving the Tin Building, but the application before the commission at a meeting yesterday only involved a specific set of plans that directly relate to Pier 17. These included adding a canopy on the roof, modifying the facade, and demolishing a small structure called the Link Building. Opponents dominated the public commentary and strongly objected to the piecemeal nature of the application. "This proposal is a classic example of segmentation," preservationist Theodore Grunewald said. In a prepared statement, the Historic District Council also used the word "segmentation," suggesting the commission view the proposal "through the lens of the original… application."

But a more visual issue hanging over everyone's head was the prospect that the canopy would make the building taller than previously proposed and would strike right across a view of the Brooklyn Bridge. "One of the glories of the Seaport is its views of the Brooklyn Bridge," one commentator said. "No matter how transparent the canopy is, this will be a highly visible rooftop addition," a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Conservancy said.

[Pier 17 with and without the canopy.]

Greg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects, the design team behind Pier 17 (and the rest of HHC's Seaport plans) tried to make clear the canopy would have no impact on that view. "We cannot think of any place along the esplanade where the view of the bridge would be blocked." This issue was a sticky one for the commission, which resolved that new renderings should be presented proving the views would not be obstructed. Outside drawings had been made, but the official renderings on display throughout the meeting showed the building as seen looking west from above, an angle where the bridge is not visible. The purpose of the canopy is, of course, to make the roof accessible, no matter the weather. "When it's raining or snowing in the Seaport District there are no people walking by," said Chris Curry of HHC.

Regardless of how weather resistant the roof is, though, opponents also slammed HHC's plan to allow private events on the space, and thus limiting public use. "The reality is they have very little obligation to open that space to the public and a very legal right to program it as they please, to schedule as many concerts and other noisy, disruptive events as they wish," said Wallace Dimson, president of the Southbridge Towers board of directors. Use is outside of the commission's realm of consideration, but the existence of the canopy had been linked to private events.

"We have heard a number of concerns from the community board regarding the impact of a rooftop canopy on the ability of an area of the rooftop to be rented out for private use, potentially limiting the number of days that area can be used for public use," said Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer in a joint statement. Curry said only portions of the roof would be for private use while the public would still have access to other parts every day of the year. He also said the events could include concerts and the Taste of the Seaport festival.

The application also included the demolition of the Link Building, which is just south of the Tin Building. It stretches eastward, into space south of the old Pier 17 mall. Along with the demolition of the Head House, this would make way for a route described both (depending on who spoke) as a pedestrian path and as a vehicular access road. Though Community Board 1 hated the canopy, it approved of the demolition.

Opponents saw the demolition as mere destruction. "The proposed demolition of the upland portion of the building, which recalls the dear Head House and the opening of the demolition site to traffic for a driveway moves the project still further away from any resemblance to a component of a historic seaport," said preservationist Christabel Gough. It was noted that the two buildings were built in the 1980s. A supporter called them unremarkable. But the commission did have its own concerns, seeing that the path might actually be more for cars than pedestrians. "I think they can make that road more subordinate to the pedestrian experience," one member said.

[Pier 17 with and without the Link Building.]

Ultimately, the commission took no issue with reviewing an application for a partial part of a larger project, but didn't approve anything new yet. There will be a follow up meeting at no certain date.

But of course, Pier 17 is not even the most pressing concern for preservationists and anti-Howard Hughes Corporation neighbors. We're all still waiting on revised plans for the 40ish-story tower that the developer wants to put beside Pier 17—which could possibly make concerns over the canopy's view-blocking moot.

· Contested Seaport Redevelopment Plan Progresses, Sort Of [Curbed]
· Seaport's New SHoP-Designed Pier 17 Is Ready to Rise [Curbed]
· Controversial Seaport Tower Could Be Shorter Than 40 Stories [Curbed]
· All Pier 17 coverage [Curbed]

Pier 17

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