Without Seaport consensus, C.B. 1 shouts

By Julie Shapiro

Community Board 1 will ask the city to delay a landmarks hearing on the development of South St. Seaport because the board failed to come to consensus on the development Wednesday night.

C.B. 1 met Wednesday to consider the landmarking aspects of developer General Growth Properties’ plans for the Seaport. The board voted down two resolutions, one that largely approved the parts of General Growth’s plan that sit in the South St. Seaport Historic District and one that objected to moving the historic Tin Building. Both resolutions would have effectively blocked General Growth from building its proposed 500-foot tower outside the city’s historic district.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission plans to hold its first hearing on General Growth’s plan Tues., Oct. 21, and it is unlikely to approve such a complicated proposal after the first presentation. The community board’s opinion is advisory. General Growth has already made at least four presentations to the community board since June.

G.G.P. wants to demolish the Pier 17 mall, replace it with low-rise retail and a boutique hotel, move the historic Tin Building from the pier’s base to its tip and build the condo and hotel tower on a platform just north of the pier. The Landmarks Preservation Commission will have to approve three aspects of the plan: the demolition of the 1985 Pier 17 mall building, the appropriateness of the new low-rise buildings on the pier and the move of the Tin Building.

Both of the community board’s failed resolutions included a new idea: extending the Seaport Historic District to encompass the entire footprint of G.G.P.’s project, including the New Market building, where G.G.P. wants to build the tower. The State Historic Preservation Office includes the New Market site in their version of the historic district, said Roger Byrom, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee, and Byrom wants the board to urge the city to do the same. State historic designations, unlike city ones, have little in the way of restrictions and allow for the demolition of buildings.

If the city decides to extend the historic district, that would make it hard for General Growth to build over 120 feet, the limit in the rest of the historic district. The New Market site has a height limit of 350 feet, and General Growth wants to create and then apply for a special permit allowing them to build 500 feet there.

Michael McNaughton, a vice president for General Growth, said during Wednesday’s meeting that extending the historic district would essentially kill the project and that he would leave the current mall in place.

“If the building is limited to 120 feet…I don’t see how we would want to move forward,” he said. “We would need to take over the entire pier to build enough square footage, which is what you have today.”

The community would also lose the amenities of open space on the pier and a potential community center and school west of the pier in the Fulton Market building.

After hearing McNaughton’s reaction, several board members suggested allowing extra height on the New Market site to leave the door open for General Growth to build the tower. Even though Julie Menin, chairperson of the board, has concerns about the height, she did not want to limit General Growth’s parameters so severely so soon.

“You’re giving the green light for the tower,” objected Paul Goldstein, C.B. 1’s former district manager, who now works for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver wrote a letter to the mayor in opposition of the tower, following the community board’s similar opposition last year, Goldstein said.

The move of the Tin Building also caused some controversy, as it would be the first contributing building in a New York City historic district ever to be moved. But the board was not able to pass either the resolution objecting to the move or the one tacitly approving it. Then, two hours into the meeting, so many board members had left that the board no longer had the quorum necessary to take any more votes.

Many members of the public did not get a chance to speak, and several interrupted the meeting by shouting out their opinions. Some of those who spoke vehemently opposed General Growth’s plans, while others fervently defended them.

Several board members raised concerns about General Growth’s financial prospects given the company’s falling stock price. Melissa Konur, vice president of transaction services for the city Economic Development Corporation, promised that the city would not give G.G.P. the go-ahead until the company had financing in place. General Growth is not planning on breaking ground until 2010, because they need a slew of city, state and federal approvals before they can begin.

Bruce Ehrmann, co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee, urged the board to see General Growth’s proposal as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reclaim the waterfront.

“You shouldn’t take a hatchet to the project,” Ehrmann said. “At worst, take a scalpel.”