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St. John's Terminal-Pier 40 Deal Gets Final OK From City Council

By Danielle Tcholakian | December 15, 2016 4:24pm | Updated on December 19, 2016 8:53am
 The City Council voted on the air rights transfer from Pier 40 to the St. John's Terminal development project Thursday afternoon.
The City Council voted on the air rights transfer from Pier 40 to the St. John's Terminal development project Thursday afternoon.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

CIVIC CENTER — A years-long plan to build a major retail and housing development across from the Hudson River's Pier 40 got the final green light Thursday with a vote by the City Council.

But not every council member was happy with the deal.

The development at the massive St. John's Terminal at 550 Washington St., across from Hudson River Park, is the first instance of the park's trust transferring its air rights from its commercial piers to developers across the West Side Highway.

The St. John's Terminal developers are paying the trust $100 million for 200,000 square feet of Pier 40's development rights and will construct five buildings to replace the sprawling terminal, originally built as a freight station.

The trust will use the money to fix the crumbling pier, which houses athletic fields, a parking garage and offices on 15 acres and is used by sports leagues from all over the city. 

City Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents the district where the project lies and negotiated with developers and the city to secure benefits for his constituents, cited the "collapsing" pier as the "main impetus" for making the project happen.

He started working toward it more than three years ago "even before [he] was sworn in as a councilmember," he said.

"I'm really proud of this deal," Johnson said, noting he secured an additional $14 million for the pier from Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

Thirty percent of the project's residential units will be rent-regulated at various income levels, resulting in nearly 500 below-market units.

READ MORE: Here's the Affordable Housing Breakdown for the St. John's Terminal Project

Of them, 10 percent will be allocated to people making 60 percent of the area median income, 5 percent will be earmarked for those making 80 percent, another 5 percent will be for people making 110 percent and a final 10 percent for people making 130 percent.

READ MORE: What is AMI?

Under de Blasio's hard-fought Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, projects that require an upzoning by the city are required to have 30 percent of their residential units earmarked for residents making 80 percent of the area median income.

The city allowed the St. John's Terminal developers to skirt that requirement because of their $100 million investment in the park,  which they called "a vital public need," City Hall spokeswoman Melissa Grace said.

She noted that the local community board, Borough President Gale Brewer, Johnson and everyone who supported the project was "fully on board" with allowing the developer to not meet MIH's minimum standards.

The $100 million is not a donation, however — it's payment for Pier 40's development rights, which will enable the developer to build a larger project than it would be allowed to without it.

And at the full council vote, some councilmembers took a stand, praising Johnson for his negotiations of various elements including landmark protections for a new historic district in SoHo, but either abstaining or voting no on the project because of the MIH zoning issue.

"I would want the MIH floor to be a real floor so that people don't seek to go below it," said Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, explaining his decision to abstain from voting on the project.

Brooklyn Councilman Carlos Menchaca voted no "as a matter of principle," adding that his goal was to urge the council and the de Blasio administration "to work better to create more affordable housing at the floors that MIH gave us."

Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams also voted no, as he previously did in subcommittee and committee votes, and reiterated his concern that President-Elect Donald Trump's administration will make it all the more important for municipalities to be vigilant about affordable housing.

Still, the vast majority of the Council voted yes, with Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield noting that it was the first land use application he knew of that facilitated the landmarking of an historic district.

"Anybody who knows how the system works knows it's not easy to get something landmarked," Greenfield said.

In a statement on the vote, Hudson River Park Trust President and CEO Madelyn Wils deemed it "a landmark victory for Hudson River Park and all who enjoy it."

"Thanks to the exemplary leadership of Council Member Corey Johnson and our other local elected officials, Mayor de Blasio and his administration, and Community Board 2, a goal the trust has long worked toward has been met. The critically needed repairs to the Pier’s piles will be made, and the Pier will stay open," Wils said.

Wils noted that part of Johnson's negotiations involved a promise by the trust to use Pier 40's remaining development rights on the pier itself, rather than enabling further development across the highway.

"We look forward to working with Council Member Johnson, all of our local elected officials and the community on a redevelopment plan for the Pier," Wils said.