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Preservationists Win New Historic District Near St. John's Terminal

 St. John's Terminal spans more than three city blocks and currently holds studio exhibition space, often used by fashion labels, and
St. John's Terminal spans more than three city blocks and currently holds studio exhibition space, often used by fashion labels, and "server farms" for businesses like RCN and Bloomberg LP.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

HUDSON SQUARE — The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission is poised to designate a new historic district in the neighborhood to win City Council approval for the controversial St. John's Terminal development across from Pier 40.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has been pushing for the South Village Historic District for a decade, and the organization's executive director Andrew Berman has made a point of raising the issue at every public meeting and hearing related to the massive development proposed for 550 Washington St.

"This is the result of a concerted effort and an enormous amount of pressure that's been exerted on the city very much in partnership with City Councilmember Corey Johnson," Berman told DNAinfo New York.

The commission's plan to introduce the new 10-block historic district early next month was first reported by Crain's New York.

The councilman had said in testimony before the City Planning Commission, "If we are to approve the 550 Washington St. application, the city must also extend landmark protections to the historic blocks south of Houston Street," Crain's reported.

Johnson, Berman's group and the local community board also want the city to prohibit destination retail at the St. John's Terminal project and make sure the Hudson River Park Trust will not transfer any more air rights for development in Community Board 2, which spans the west side from Canal Street to 14th Street.

The St. John's Terminal project was recently approved by the City Planning Commission, but still needs the approval of the City Council.

The council generally defers to the council member whose district a given project lies in, so Johnson's support is crucial.

"One of my top priorities since taking office has been to achieve landmark protections for the historic South Village," Johnson said. "New York is growing and changing rapidly, but there are some historic neighborhoods that are so special they should be protected for future generations. The South Village is one of these neighborhoods, and we can’t let it slip away."

Berman said the proposed historic district, bounded by Sixth Avenue, West Fourth Street, LaGuardia Place and Houston Street, includes about 170 buildings that are "really a treasure trove of New York City history."

"You can walk those streets and feel like you're transported back to the turn of the century," he said. "It's amazing how intact they are, and this designation will help preserve that."

As DNAinfo previously reported, Berman has been a thorn in the side of the developers and lobbyists behind the project since its earliest days.

Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request showed lobbyist James Capalino pushing the administration to announce the project nearly a year before they did, spurred by a concern over Berman's efforts against it.

READ MORE: Here's How the St. John's Terminal-Pier 40 Deal Got Done

The LPC is not giving Berman or Johnson credit for the designation, however.

"The agency has been studying this area for some time, most recently, in light of the Commission’s efforts to identify historic resources in neighborhoods undergoing change," LPC spokeswoman Damaris Olivo said. "As a result, the agency has prioritized this area."

Berman has also been pushing the city to rezone University Place in light of the massive development being built on the former Bowlmor Lanes site. He said there is still no progress on that front.