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City Council subcommittee green lights transfer of Pier 40 air rights to St. John’s Terminal

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The vote isn’t final, but will likely influence the full council

On Monday, the City Council’s subcommittee on zoning & franchises voted to approve the $100 million sale of Pier 40’s air rights to a consortium of developers who seek to remake the adjacent St. John’s Terminal Building into a mixed-use haven of megaproject proportions. While this morning’s events are not the deciding vote, it’s anticipated that the full City Council will green light the transfer later this month with the subcommittee’s demonstrated approval.

City Council member Corey Johnson, who reps the district in which the transfer would take place, praised the modified agreement for the redevelopment of St. John’s Terminal prior to the vote. Johnson commended the amended area median income standards for the project’s affordable housing component, the developers’ pact to forgo big box stores at the site and bring in a grocery store, and the comprehensive traffic study of the site as important aspects that contributed to his newfound support for the project.

Johnson also praised the prohibition of the future transfer of air rights from Hudson River Park into the area that falls within Community Board 2. The stipulation for Johnson’s backing was contentious with the Hudson River Park Trust, who relies on the transfer of air rights as a key source of revenue for park upkeep.

“While we're disappointed that the Council curtailed our ability to sell our air rights, our focus right now is on repairing Pier 40's piles and working with local elected officials and the community to pursue a development on Pier 40,” an HRPT spokesperson said in a statement following the vote. As is, roughy $140 million of air rights remain in the area surrounding St. John’s Terminal at 550 Washington Street, Crain’s noted prior to the vote.

The transfer of air rights and cash infusion to the Hudson River Park will “literally save this pier and this park from a catastrophic structural failure,” Johnson noted before expressing his support for the measure. The funding infusion will allow the trust to move forward with necessary repairs to the pier’s structurally unsound pilings.

Current plans for the redevelopment of St. John’s Terminal include five buildings with over 1,500 units of market rate and affordable housing. In October plans were nixed for a High Line-inspired elevated linear park on the building’s defunct rail lines.

Of the six members of the subcommittee, five voted to approve the transfer with one voting against the measure. Council member Jumaane Williams voiced his disapproval of the air rights transfer, noting that as the City Council’s housing chair, and with the recent appointment of Ben Carson as the Housing and Urban Development secretary, it’s more important than ever to ensure city projects with deeper affordability. “What happens in one community does affect us all,” Williams said.

Johnson wasn’t always for the redevelopment of St. John’s Terminal; the Council member indicated in August that he’d be more likely to lean in favor of the transfer if the Landmarks Preservation Commission were to approve the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, a 157-building swath proposed for landmarking to the east of St. John’s Terminal. The LPC heard public testimony surrounding the historic district last Tuesday, and are tentatively set to vote on—and likely approve—the district on December 13.

The City Planning Commission approved the transfer of the air rights in mid-October. The full City Council will vote on December 15.

Madelyn Wils, president and CEO of the Hudson River Park Trust, issued the following statement after today’s subcommittee meeting:

Pier 40 is a treasured community resource and an important revenue generator for Hudson River Park. Today's votes move us one step closer to ensuring that the urgently needed repairs to the pier's piles will be made, and the pier will stay open. Under a newly strengthened deal, the full $100 million will be guaranteed to the park before the developer can pull the special permit.

Once the funding is secured, we must also make sure Pier 40 serves as a revenue generator for the entire park. We thank the City Council for acknowledging today that the remaining development rights on Pier 40 should be used on the pier itself in a future redevelopment.

Thanks to Council Member Johnson, all of our local elected officials, the de Blasio administration and Community Board 2 for their hard work and leadership over the past year on this critical issue for Hudson River Park.

St. John’s Center Partners, the developers seeking to remake the historic train terminus, issued the following statement:

We thank the City Council Land Use Committee and the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee for their support, and Council Member Johnson and his staff for working so hard with us to reach an agreement that works for the community and the project. St. John’s Center will provide $100 million urgently needed dollars to save Pier 40 so that it remains a vital neighborhood resource, add affordable housing to the district, and create a vibrant mixed use development for the West Side. We look forward to the consideration of the full City Council and to continuing the constructive, collaborative process we’ve had with the community, elected officials, and the City since initiation of this project.

Pier 40

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