W.T.C. plan is criticized at environmental hearing


By Josh Rogers

Many opponents and supporters of the selected plan for the World Trade Center site agreed that there was too much office bulk in the proposal, last week at the first meeting to discuss the environmental impact statement for the $10 billion project.

Calling the E.I.S. “the last best hope” to look at alternatives other than rebuilding 10 million square feet of office space at the site, New York/New Visions — a group of architects and other professionals that favors the selected site plan by architect Daniel Libeskind — nevertheless submitted testimony questioning the plan.

“This is too much office, commercial and retail space for this site, both in terms of the sheer density of the buildings and conditions it will produce, and in relation to the need for development in other areas of Lower Manhattan,” said the New Visions statement, a large part of which was read into the record at last Wednesday’s hearing.

The group said the proposal calls for bulkier offices with a floor area ratio of 30.

New Visions favors proceeding with the selected design, but shifting some of the office space to other sites Downtown and not adding 600,000 square feet of retail space to the 400,000 square feet of retail that was in the W.T.C.’s mall. Given that the new plan includes a 4.7-acre memorial and new streets (Fulton and Greenwich) running through the site, there is not enough room to rebuild the office space and double the amount of retail at the site, according to New Visions’ statement, which was also generally endorsed by the Regional Plan Association.

Critics of the Libeskind scheme were even more critical at last week’s scoping hearings for a “generic environmental impact statement” for the W.T.C.

“Libeskind flagrantly violates the floor-area-ratio density standards set forth in New York City’s zoning resolutions,” said Jonathan Hakala, a leader of Twin Team Towers, which favors building a modern version of the W.T.C. at the site. Because the 16-acre site is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which was established by an act of Congress, the project is not subject to city zoning laws.

Not all of the speakers were against rebuilding the office space. The Downtown Alliance, a business improvement district funded by Lower Manhattan property owners, submitted testimony saying the site will be able to accommodate over 10 million square feet of office space.

The Alliance urged the Port and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to make the scope of the environmental study flexible enough to allow for adjustments to the plan over time.

Several key decisions related to the site still need to be made. Three different sites are being considered for a proposed bus garage to bring visitors to the memorial; officials are still considering whether or not to build a vehicular tunnel adjacent to the site under West St.; the memorial has not been selected and there has been some consideration to shifting some of the office space to the site of the Deutsche Bank building across the street, which was damaged in the 9/11 attack.

Tim Carey, president and C.E.O. of the Battery Park City Authority, said the L.M.D.C. and the Port Authority have asked him to consider an underground bus garage at a proposed commercial development site in B.P.C., bounded by Vesey, Murray and West Sts. He said if it is built there, it will mean the authority would reduce the number of cars that could park in the proposed garage from 500 to about 340. It would also be another reason to build the West St. tunnel because it would keep idling buses off the street, said Carey.

“We certainly would be opposed to anything that causes buses to queue on Battery Park City streets or along West St.,” said Carey. “An underground egress would make it much easier to all those involved.”

The tunnel has been opposed by many people living in B.P.C., and last week a Community Board 1 committee voiced “serious reservations” about the project.

Carey said the New York City Opera has also been talking to Brookfield Properties Corp. about building a new opera center over the proposed B.P.C. parking lot site, another project the authority would consider. Brookfield, which owns the World Financial Center, maintains it has a claim to the parking lot site, although that is disputed by the authority. For over a year, the opera company has had an interest in moving to the World Trade Center site — which is expected to have several cultural facilities.

The other two sites being considered for the underground bus garage are under the proposed 9/11 memorial, a location that has been opposed by many relatives of the victims of the attack, or under the Deutsche Bank site, where the badly damaged building is expected to be demolished although no final decision has been made.

Madelyn Wils, a board member of the L.M.D.C. and chairperson of C.B. 1, said she has asked the state Dept. of Transportation to analyze how the garage locations may affect the tunnel issue.

She said she is not concerned with the uncertainties surrounding the E.I.S. process.

Officials hope to complete the environmental statement by next spring and to begin constructing the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower on the site by next August. It will be designed by architect David Childs, a partner at Skidmore Owings & Merrill, who is working with Libeskind on the design. Childs has been hired by developer Larry Silverstein, who owns the leasing rights to the W.T.C.

The statement is likely to consider other options, including the rejected “Towers of Culture” plan by the THINK architectural team, the original W.T.C. and building only a memorial on the site.

The memorial-only option was favored by some relatives after the attack and was originally endorsed by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but has received little support from others.

Diane Horning, whose son was killed in the attack, said “we shouldn’t waste time” on the memorial-only option if it was not going to be seriously considered.

Monica Iken, whose husband was killed, said the original Libeskind plan released in December was better than the adjustments he made in February. Originally, there was less office space and the memorial area was to be 70 feet below street level. It was moved up to be 30 feet below level.

“Mr. Libeskind’s fine plan from December, which the public largely supports, has been butchered,” said Iken. She also wants the memorial area to be expanded beyond the 4.7 acres.

Catherine Hughes, a nearby resident, said with the memorial area below street level there is very little plaza space. “With the new plan, there is almost no open space for the public,” she said.

In addition, Hughes said the Post Office is expected to reroute all of the trucks it sends to the Farley General Post Office at 34th St. to Lower Manhattan while Farley is renovated as part of the plan to redesign Penn Station.

Wils said she was also concerned about the Post Office’s plans.

Not all of the testimony expressed such concerns.

Carl Galioto, an architect and partner of Childs at S.O.M., said: “This development will be a model of urbanism that will create densities that are consistent with the Downtown context and commercial objectives while creating an environment that supports urban activity including street-level interaction and appropriately oriented and scaled public spaces and view corridors.”

The environmental scooping document is available at the L.M.D.C. Web site, www.renewnyc.com and comments can be submitted there or by writing to the L.M.D.C. at One Liberty Plaza, New York, N.Y., 10006. They will be accepting comments until Aug. 4 at 5 p.m.