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BY JOSH ROGERS | City Landmarks commissioners last week splashed cold water on the South Street Seaport plan to cover most of Pier 17’s rooftop with protection from the rain.
Members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission did not say they would reject the canopy proposed by Howard Hughes Corp., but they did say the covering was too high, and told the developer they wanted to see more renderings of how it would look from the street.
Two commissioners who approved the 2013 design with reservations, said the proposed revisions make it worse.
“It was just on the edge before, and I think the height of the canopy for me tips it over,” Michael Goldblum said at the Aug. 4 hearing.
“I have certain concerns similar to [other] commissioners about the size and shape of the canopy,” said Meenakshi Srinivasan, the commission’s chairperson who was appointed last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio after the L.P.C. approval two years ago.
Most of the speakers at the public hearing were opposed to the application for the South Street Seaport Historic District, many citing the additional obstruction to the Brooklyn Bridge, and the noise from large events on the canopy.
Many of them also criticized the developer “segmenting” the Pier 17 plan from Hughes’ broader proposal, which includes restoring the Seaport’s Tin Building and constructing a residential tower at the New Market Building.
Surprisingly, Councilmember Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer, two of the leading opponents of Hughes’ overall plans, thanked the commission for separating the proposals, and did not oppose the Pier 17 roof in their joint statement to Landmarks.
“We would like to express our appreciation first that we are considering this application on its own, and not entangled with a number of other changes presented to the community board in January,” the pair said.
They also said they’ve heard the community concerns about how the roof will be used, but since the commission can only rule on aesthetics, they would take those matters up elsewhere.
The application “is of course part of much larger questions related to the development of the Seaport area that will not be settled today,” Brewer and Chin said.
Assemblymember Sheldon Silver, for his part, acknowledged the commission’s limitations in his written testimony, but added “I believe that in this case, you need to also consider how his proposed canopy would change the character of this unique community.”
For the Hughes firm, the need for a 30-foot canopy is simple.
“When it’s raining or snowing in the South Street Seaport district, there are no people walking around,” Chris Curry, the Hughes executive in charge of the project, told the commission.
The project’s architect, Gregg Pasquarelli, said fire codes required that the covering must be at least 30 feet over exit stairs, but he took Chairperson Srinivasan’s suggestion to try and reduce the height by leaving the egresses exposed to the elements.
The canopy was added based on suggestions made by members of the Seaport Working Group, a community based panel which was led by Brewer and Chin and formed to help Hughes revise its proposals.
Community Board 1, also part of the working group, has gone back and forth on a Pier 17 roof, but is now solidly against.
“We didn’t have some issues with [it] in the beginning, but as we discovered it developing, we’ve had more and more challenges with it,” C.B. 1’s Roger Byrom said at last month’s community board meeting.
At the Landmarks hearing, the plan was generally opposed by preservation groups and residents, but supported by local and citywide business groups, including the Downtown Alliance, the Old Seaport Alliance, and the Association for a Better New York.
Michael Kramer, a leader of Save Our Seaport, cited Hughes’ claims to attract 4,000 people to what the firm has called “the world’s premier entertainment venue.”
Hughes Corp. “has been before you multiple times misleading L.P.C. with an ever changing story,” Kramer said at the hearing, pointing to changes in the design. “Adding 40 feet in height to the rooftop…will obstruct views of the Brooklyn Bridge.”
After, he said he was “encouraged” by the commissioners’ reaction.
The roof would increase or decrease the public’s use of the space, depending on who is making the prediction.
“By putting a canopy on it, the community will realistically and practicably, have less use of that extra space,” Byrom, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Landmarks Committee, said at last month’s community board meeting.
“Nothing in the operation of the roof is affected by the canopy,” Hughes’ Curry said. “What the canopy does do is it allows the roof to be used more often.”
Byrom and a few others have said the Pier 17 revisions present an opportunity to expand the public’s use of the roof.
Part of the roof will always be open, but the large section that allows for small children to play soccer can be closed for private events. (Hughes has said it could be used this way regularly on Saturdays).
Community-based groups can use the roof for free for fundraisers four times a year under the 2013 city approval.
Councilmember Chin, who helped negotiate the 2013 deal, seems reluctant to reopen the agreement, but her spokesperson did say the new land use application will give the community the chance “to discuss many things of importance.”
Hughes clearly doesn’t want to talk about increasing access on Pier 17.
“You’re talking about something that’s already been decided,” Curry told C.B. 1 while the board was debating its recommendation to Landmarks. “You’re just trying to figure if you want a canopy on the building or not.”
The board did not.
A week later, most of the Landmarks commissioners did not like the covering’s height, but one did speak up for it.
Frederick Bland said from his home facing the Seaport, he sees many people use Brooklyn’s Pier 2 because of its covering.
Bland, who voted for the 2013 Pier 17 plan, said he didn’t like the revisions because they will increase exposure of the Pier 17 building, turning it into “a perfect mall.”
He never liked having “a mall on the waterfront in New York City. It seemed wrong at the time (30 years ago). It still seems wrong, but did I vote for it two years ago? I did.”
Hughes plans to open a new asphalt roadway with the removal of two ‘80s era buildings next to Pier 17 — the Link Building and headhouse.
Since the access road, intended for deliveries and pedestrians, will be more prominent, the commissioners suggested cobblestones for the historic district.
Curry, in a statement to Downtown Express said “we are processing the feedback,” from the Landmarks Commission and will revise the design.
With reporting by
Dusica Sue Malesevic