Answers are needed on park air rights sales

One mystery surrounding the amendment to the Hudson River Park Act that the Legislature approved way back in June was answered last Wed., Nov. 13, when Governor Cuomo finally signed the bill into law.

However, many questions still remain about the modifications to the 1998 Park Act, specifically, regarding the provision allowing the Hudson River Park’s unused development rights to be sold across the highway one block inland from the park.

For starters, no one seems to know exactly how many unused air rights the 5-mile-long park has. Madelyn Wils, the president of the Hudson River Park Trust, the park’s governing authority, is on record saying this summer that the park has about 1.6 million square feet of unused air rights potentially for sale. However, the Trust and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried — who sponsored the recent amendment along with Assemblymember Deborah Glick — now say the exact number of air rights can’t be quantified until a formal ULURP is done, presumably, sometime soon.

Also, no one seems to know where the air rights could be transferrable to. Would they have to go directly across the highway from the pier they are taken from? Or could they be stacked anywhere along the park’s length, from Chambers St. to W. 59th St.?

Most importantly, will the city or will the state oversee these air rights transfers? If it’s the city, under city zoning, a seven-month-long ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) public review process would be required. Admittedly, many local residents scoff that ULURP has not spared the community strongly opposed  large-scale projects, such as the Rudin residential redevelopment of the St. Vincent’s site, the N.Y.U. 2031 superblocks expansion or the Chelsea Market vertical expansion.

Yet, with a community-sensitive councilmember, ULURP can be an effective way to scale back oversized, noncontextual development plans and add into them community “gets” — like affordable housing, a school or a health facility.

Pier 40 is the focus of everyone’s attention right now. That’s mainly because the new amendment requires that any revenue from the sale of this massive, but crumbling West Houston St. pier’s air rights be funneled back into Pier 40 to fund sorely needed repairs. Plus, Pier 40 simply has a huge amount of air rights for sale — around 600,000 square feet — and potentially 740,000 more if its pier shed is razed. Meanwhile, the St. John’s Center building across the highway has been a long-coveted development site, only in need of a residential zoning change.

We hear that, initially, at least, discussions among stakeholders were that a potential air rights transfer from Pier 40 to the St. John’s site would be handled under the state’s General Project Plan, or G.P.P., process. We’re told that, yes, a G.P.P. does involve an extensive public comment period. Yet, the decision on a G.P.P. is ultimately by the much-maligned mechanism of “three men in a room” — the governor and the heads of the Assembly and state Senate.

The new legislation would seem to indicate that city zoning would, in fact, govern the process — but again, we absolutely need concrete assurances.

Yes, of course, the revenue from these air rights sales would be a godsend for currently cash-strapped Hudson River Park. Yet, at what cost? For years, activists and preservationists have battled to save the Lower West Side waterfront from overdevelopment. Now, will this new provision simply override and blot out all those hard-won gains?

The tough work of figuring out next steps on this issue will fall on Mayor Bill de Blasio. There will also be some new Trust board members in place. Coincidentally, the East Midtown rezoning was just scrapped, showing that outgoing Mayor Bloomberg’s pending initiatives are not a shoo-in anymore, by any means.

We hear Community Board 2 will be reviewing the air rights issue in January. We’re looking forward to the board’s helping clarify this murky, but very serious, provision that has the potential to radically reshape our communities.

The Villager encourages readers to share articles:

Comments are often moderated.

We appreciate your comments and ask that you keep to the subject at hand, refrain from use of profanity and maintain a respectful tone to both the subject at hand and other readers who also post here. We reserve the right to delete your comment.

4 Responses to Answers are needed on park air rights sales

  1. How is this not just creating a Gold Coast on the Hudson? HRP is on it's way to being a luxury amenity for wealthy highrise residents. A gated-community sure to cast evening shadows over a large swath of the Village, and drive out longtime middle income families, making sure that there will never ever be anything but investment properties for the rich on our westside.

  2. Madelyn Wils, the current president of Hudson River Park, never transitioned from her former position within Bloomberg's Economic Development Corp, so it comes as no surprise she once again appears tripped up by facts of her own making. Trust Board members Joe Rose and Mike Novogratz now have opportunity for huge profits from properties owned by them with the passing of this air-rights legislation. Mike Novogratz, President of Fortress Investment Group, which took full control of the St. John site sometime while he was a Board Member of Hudson River Park Trust and his appointment in December as Chair of the Friends of the Hudson River Park Trust (the Trust's fundraising club) now stand to profit the most from both the transfer and residential zoning change.
    Considering all the deal making and misinformation put out by the Trust and Park officials Wils, Novogratz, and their lobbyists certainly were the ones who put this legislative package of goodies into this mess of a law before Bloomberg left office. Oh, and my I forgot to mention Bloomberg's girlfriend is the Trust's (too) longtime Chair.
    With all the lack of transparency by our selected and elected officials, it is appropriate for the Editorial Staff of The Villager to raise these questions and concerns. However considering the ULURP record of community concern vs. monied interests it would take a more organized group of advocates to combat the deep pockets of the Trust/Friends Board members who seem to have a financial stake in this legislation.

  3. ULURP is a shame to give the appearance that voters have been heard even though what they say matters not a bit. It's a rigged game from the start to get the ball rolling, and then it can't be stopped. Wake up people!

  4. After expressing concerns about recently passed legilsation which sells the air rights from Hudson River Park to developers at a Community Board 2 meeting this past week, I got a knock on my door today from Assemblymember Debroah Glick. NO JOKE
    While I still have concerns, she expressed her willingness to discuss other important issues more, and brought me a copy of her newsletter. Sunday afternoon house calls??… Now that's constituent service!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

+ five = 7

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>