HUDSON SQUARE — The developers of a proposed project at the St. John's Terminal across from Pier 40 may delay a major element of their plan, prompting concerns that the pier will be deprived of much-needed funds for repairs.
The City Council's subcommittee on zoning held a public hearing Tuesday on the St. John's Terminal project and the deal to sell air rights from Pier 40, and the local councilman who represents the area was aggravated by what he called a potential "hybrid plan" the developers are apparently exploring, which would delay development on the center portion of the St. John's site, where the majority of the housing is expected to be built.
The proposed project at 550 Washington St. would include five buildings holding luxury condos, affordable housing, retail and, potentially, a hotel or office space, made possible by a $100 million purchase of 200,000 square feet of air rights from Pier 40.
The Hudson River Park Trust is desperate for the funds to repair the piles supporting the pier, which have been steadily deteriorating for decades.
"It's frustrating for me that all of a sudden, something new is introduced into the picture," Councilman Corey Johnson said.
The developers are apparently concerned about the flagging luxury residential market, and are considering postponing development on that site in the hopes that the market will pick up again.
Johnson, in turn, is concerned that the Trust won't get the badly-needed funds for the pier repairs in time. The plan so far has been for them to put a portion of the funds in escrow after the Trust votes to approve the sale, and then deliver the remainder after the deal officially closes.
Johnson said the developers can still pursue an as-of-right project that wouldn't require the air rights from Pier 40 and wouldn't include housing.
"That can't happen, and that is my major fear in all of this," Johnson said.
The chair of the subcommittee, Councilman Donovan Richards, agreed that the developers' commitment needs to be "in stone" before the City Council votes on the rezoning.
"We don't want false promises," Richards said. "Our communities don't deserve commitments not being kept."
A spokesman for the St. John's developers said they are SJC "committed to the full $100 million payment when the application and air rights transfer are approved."
Johnson also wants the Trust to agree not to sell any more air rights within the bounds of Community Board 2.
Hudson River Park Trust President and CEO Madelyn Wils said that after this sale, the pier will have 383,000 square feet of unused air rights remaining.
Wils has maintained that her ideal would be to use the remaining development rights to build office space on the pier, as that would generate steady annual revenue for the Trust, which is required by state law to support itself financially.
"We prefer using them on the pier. That's the best outcome, long term, for the park," she said at the hearing.
But doing so will require an amendment to the Hudson River Park Act by the state legislature.
That is something Johnson said "would be conceptually OK with me, but there's no plan and it's ultimately in the hands of the state legislature."
Johnson was also firm with the developers' land use attorney on limiting the number of parking spaces involved in the project, which in the proposal number more than 700 and are meant as an amenity for the project's residents.
“You’re not getting 700-something spaces, you’re not getting 500 spaces, it’s too much," Johnson said.
When land use attorney Michael Sillerman tried to respond, Johnson added, "We’re setting expectations.”
Johnson argued that the residents could park at Pier 40, thereby generating more revenue for the park.
Sillerman replied, "I think parking is one of those—"
"Horrible things we always have to talk about," Johnson interrupted.
The developers also want a crosswalk added across West Street somewhere in the "crossing desert" between Canal and Houston streets.
Architect Rick Cook said they are in talks with the Trust and the Department of Transportation about that.
"Who's going to pay for the crosswalk?" Johnson asked.
"I think that hasn't been determined," replied Sillerman, to which Johnson noted that it will be a big amenity for people in the building and will require city and state cooperation to accomplish.
Locals are concerned that the parking spaces will worsen the already thick traffic in the area leading into the Holland Tunnel.
Other than Sillerman verbally committing to giving the Trust the full amount of funds as soon as possible, and agreeing that a firm agreement on the money should be made in writing, little was settled at the hearing. More changes to the plan are expected before the full City Council votes on the project in December.