Earlier today, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)’s considerably scaled-back mixed-use tower proposed for 250 Water Street—currently a surface parking lot—within Lower Manhattan’s Seaport Historic District has won the approval of New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) by a vote of 6-to-2.
The vote, cast at a hearing held earlier today, sets up the stage for the controversy-mired project to commence a 7-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, also known as a ULURP, later this month. Despite the project having many high-profile detractors, 700 letters in support of the $850 million project, which was initially introduced in October of last year albeit in a vastly different form, were sent to the LPC prior to today’s hearing according to the developer, the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC).
As clarified by Howard Hughes, the project team is not seeking a rezoning; the ULURP process is required for a special permit for the building height and setback as well as an air-rights transfer from the neighboring Pier 17 and the Tin Building sites that HHC controls under a long-term ground lease.
As Saul Scherl, president of the New York Tri-State Region for the Dallas-headquartered Howard Hughes Corporation, elaborated:
“We appreciate the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s thoughtful feedback and are gratified that the Commissioners have deemed our 250 Water Street proposal appropriate for the Seaport Historic District. We worked hard to produce a design that is responsive to the Commission’s comments and preserves the project’s crucial benefits: deeply affordable housing in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods and meaningful funding for the South Street Seaport Museum, the heart of the Historic District. The broad array of community residents, preservationists, elected officials, architects, cultural organizations, local business owners and nonprofit leaders who support our project agree that the Seaport’s best days are ahead and that this project will play a vital role in New York City’s inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the community, elected officials and the City as we move into the land-use approval process later this month.”
Appearing before the commission during this morning’s hearing, Scherl described the redevelopment proposal as one that will “repair the gap of the streetscape that has existed for more than 50 years.” Scherl said that the design team has considered the “thoughtful comments” made with regard to the proposed, now-25-story 250 Water Street during a marathon April 6 public hearing and “has further reduced its height as much as feasible” in an effort to retain the essential goals of the project. Scherl added that SOM has also made “meaningful, impactful design refinements, which, together with the height reduction, I strongly believe make this an appropriate building for your consideration.”
In January of this year, Howard Hughes appeared before the LPC with a dual-pronged tower-on-a-base scheme that included 360 units of housing, 100 of them earmarked as affordable. Pushback was swift and widespread and the development team was sent back to the drawing board, returning last month with a revised design by SOM envisioning a shorter, squatter single tower capping out at 345 feet, down from 470 feet. The trimmed-back design, which still was unable to sway many ardent critics of the project (although it did win over a few new supporters), was downsized by over 200,000-square-feet, dropping from 757,000 to 550,000 square feet. Correspondingly, the number of housing units also shrunk from 360 to 270 with the number of affordable units sliding back to 70.
The further revised design presented this morning to the LPC by Scherl and Chris Cooper, design partner at SOM, dropped the total building height by 21 feet to 324 feet while shedding an additional 10,00 square feet. Modifications within the base and street wall detailed by Cooper included replacing one office floor with a lower residential floor, slightly reducing the floor-to-floor height of the third-through-fifth floors, adjusting the window proportion of the windows in the building base, and adjusting and lowering the cornice detailing. As noted by Cooper, the additional modifications also “simplify the articulation of the bar; reducing contrast, variation, and shadow to enable a more background presence within the district.” The number of apartments will remain the same.
Following Cooper’s in-depth presentation of the latest modifications, LPC chair Sarah Carroll began the discussion by stating that: “I think the adjustments that have been presented today improve the clarity of the design and support my reasons for finding it appropriate.” Along with Carroll, commissioners Wellington Chen, Everardo Jefferson, Jeanne Lutfy, Adi Shamir-Baron, and Diana Chapin voted in favor of advancing the project with commissioners John Gustafson and Michael Goldblum voting nay. Commissioners Frederick Bland, Anne Holford-Smith, and Michael Devonshire were all recused and not present at the meeting. The proposed changes to the nearby South Street Seaport Museum were also passed by a vote of 7-to-0 (with 1 “not present” vote).
You can rewatch the entire viewing and hear remarks from all present commissioners here. The proposal will now go before the City Council for the next stage of approvals.