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St. John's Terminal redevelopment continues to elicit concerns

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The City Planning commissioned heard testimony on the project on Wednesday

West Village residents raised many of the same concerns brought up at a community meeting in June at a public hearing organized Wednesday by the City Planning Commission on the transfer of air rights from Pier 40.

The Hudson River Park Trust, which manages the pier, reached an agreement with the developers who want to transform St. John’s Terminal across the street from Pier 40. For $100 million, the HRPT would agree to transfer 200,000 square feet of air rights from the pier to the Terminal site for developers Westbrook Partners and the Atlas Capital Group to build their massive project as planned. That money would be used by HRPT for much needed repairs on 3,500 piles supporting the pier.

The City Planning meeting was organized in such a way that five people would speak against the project, and five for. But prior to the public testimony part of it, a representative for the developers, and Rick Cook of COOKFOX Architects (the firm is designing the St. John's project) presented plans for the development.

As of right, the developers could build a 50-story hotel, and two buildings with retail, office, and event spaces, according to DNAinfo. But through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), that this project is currently in the middle of, the developers are hoping for the Terminal site to be zoned residential, and along with the transfer of air rights, they want to construct five buildings with a mix of market-rate condos, affordable housing, particularly senior housing (30 percent of all housing would be permanently affordable), an office or a hotel, and a large amount of retail.

That was a major point of contention for many at the meeting, including the commissioners. Many questioned whether the developers intended to bring "big box" stores to the location. A large, affordable grocery store was the exception, but those who spoke against the project said that if the redevelopment did in fact go through, the city should ensure that the retail portions are for local businesses.

"The project is ludicrously oversized," Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVHSP), said at the meeting. Many members of his organization also testified, voicing their concerns about the project. "The project will be overwhelming to the surrounding area, and will not provide enough public amenities."

Parking and traffic was also a major point of contention. The developers are intending to create 772 parking spots at the development. Commissioner Larisa Ortiz wondered if the large amount was necessary especially when the city was trying to reduce the number of cars on the street. The developers' representative argued that it was essential to selling the market-rate apartments.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wondered instead if the parking could be replaced by indoor recreational spaces that would support the local cultural organizations—creating rehearsal studios or theaters were among the suggestions she put forth.

Traffic was a major concern too. Many who testified argued that the streets around the development at 550 Washington Street were already bottlenecks, and that hundreds of new residents would only worsen the problem if there weren’t major infrastructural improvements to address the ongoing concerns.

"I will not approve a project that doesn’t adequately address the needs of the community," City Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents the neighborhood, said at the hearing. "There needs to be traffic congestion study before this project moves forward."

Even those who were technically speaking in favor of the project, such as the members of the local community board (Manhattan Community Board 2) expressed concerns about the overall scale of the Terminal’s redevelopment.

"As is, the project is monolithic, forbidding, and inward facing," Anita Brandt, the chair of the land use committee at CB2, said. She said that the developers had been very open to discussions, and were forthcoming when the community board provided feedback, but that they didn’t actually witness any of their suggestions being incorporated into the project as it was presented on Wednesday.

Paimaan Lodhi, the vice president of urban planning and data analytics at the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) however was on board with the project citing the much needed repairs to Pier 40, and the affordable housing the project would bring to the neighborhood.

Most people however were in agreement with those aspects of the project at least. They certainly wanted to preserve Pier 40 as a community resource, and were happy about the affordable housing (if not the amount and the income threshold), but they were concerned if this was the best way to go about it. Members of the GVSHP demanded that the city prevent the HRPT from transferring any more air rights if this project moved forward, and to designate the not-yet-landmarked section of the South Village to protect it from such development.

The meeting on Wednesday was simply a chance for people to testify. The Commission will now review these materials and then vote on the project at a public meeting later on. The City Council will then have a final say on the project before it can actually move forward.

Pier 40

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