Volume 17 • Issue 16 | SEPTEMBER 10 - 16, 2004

Gerson, city sign Downtown school deal

By Josh Rogers

The city and community leaders have reached a deal to build residential towers on two Tribeca sites and a new pre-K - 8 school on the East Side of Lower Manhattan.

The deal also includes a 10,000-square-foot annex to relieve the overcrowding at P.S. 234, a 30,000-square-foot rec center with a gym and a regulation-size pool, according to City Councilmember Alan Gerson who signed the deal with Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff Wed., Sept. 8. Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1, was part of the months-long negotiations and Gerson said he would not have signed the deal without her approval.

The first choice for the school site is 250 Water St. in the South Street Seaport Historic District and the city would likely have to acquire the parking-lot site from Milstein Properties through eminent domain. Gerson said the city is required to make its best efforts to find a school site south of the Brooklyn Bridge and east of Broadway and if the city fails to get a site somewhere Downtown, it will make it extremely difficult for the city to proceed with the rest of its development plans in Tribeca.

The City Council on Thursday approved the plans for a 300-foot building at Site 5C, located behind P.S. 234, but the buildings planned for Site 5B across the street have not yet come before the Council. Site 5B would have buildings of 375, 200 and 135 feet, with the larger two on West St. Under the agreement, the developer must make sincere efforts to bring in a supermarket, and according to one source, representatives of the developer, Edward Minskoff, suggested they would try to get the popular Whole Foods to open in Tribeca. Minskoff did not return a call for comment.

Gerson called the deal a “major accomplishment” and added, “there was more than one shouting match with the deputy mayor. In the end, the community came out really well.”

Reported School/Tribeca Development Deal

Terms of a deal signed by Dep. Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Councilmemer Alan Gerson, as outlined by Gerson. The deal also includes building a pre-K – 8 school on Lower Manhattan’s East Side. Aspects of the deal were confirmed by other sources.

What’s proposed

Completion date
Site 5B
Edward Minskoff
3 residential buildings between 135-370 feet, low-rise retail buildings and possibly a supermarket

Possibly 2007
Site 5C
Scott Resnick
3 residential buildings between 85- 300 feet, retail space, a 30,000-square-foot rec center with a pool and gym, a 10,000-square-foot school annex to P.S. 234 for younger children
Possibly 2006

Gerson said Site 5C will have the 300-foot building along West St., an 85-foot building with the community rec center and school annex on Warren St., and an 85-foot residential building. Norman Foster, a prominent British architect who was in the running to design the new World Trade Center, will design the apartment buildings for developer Scott Resnick, who did not return a call for comment.

Doctoroff declined to speak about the deal’s specifics but said it includes “very, very attractive community facilities and amenities that the community really needs.” Speaking to reporters as he was leaving a meeting of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Doctoroff said a school site has been picked but he did not confirm it was 250 Water St. Several sources who either participated in the negotiations or who were briefed regularly said 250 Water St. is the first choice.

Wils, who attended the same L.M.D.C. meeting, was considerably less enthusiastic about the deal than Gerson. “Compromise is when everybody is a little unhappy,” she said. “I’m a little unhappy.”

Gerson said he and Wils fought as hard as they could to make the buildings as small as possible and to maximize the school and community space.

School needs and zoning

Paul Hovitz, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Youth and Education committee, said there’s a desperate need for a new school in Lower Manhattan and he was pleased that it would be on the East Side. “All of our schools are overpopulated,” he said.

P.S. 234 at Greenwich and Chambers Sts. is the most overcrowded school in Lower Manhattan and it consistently is a leader in reading and math scores across the city. Hovitz said the new school would have to be academically rigorous — otherwise parents in the Seaport and the Financial District will still fight to get into 234.

Gerson said school zoning issues have not been decided, but under the agreement, only children living in areas that have first priority for P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 in Battery Park City will be eligible to have first priority in the new school. Currently, children living in Tribeca, the Seaport and the Financial District are guaranteed seats at 234 and B.P.C. children have first dibs at 89.

The new agreement means children living in the nearby Smith Houses will not be guaranteed a spot in the new school. At least a few parents living in the new school’s zone have quietly expressed concerns about Smith House residents attending the new school, fearing the housing complex’s less affluent residents might make the school less desirable. Gerson said in all likelihood, Smith residents would be able to attend the new elementary school if it is not filled with children living in the first-priority boundaries. Presumably these boundaries would include the Seaport and the Financial District. They could include Tribeca and B.P.C., but they may not.

The Tribeca school annex on the same block as P.S. 234 will include pre-K classes and may include kindergarten too. P.S. 234, which has 715 students in a building built for 585, will have more room for older children once the annex is built, which could be in two years. Sandy Bridges, the school’s principal told Downtown Express last week that she had to use her computer room as a classroom this year and she will have to make more sacrifices next year.

Gerson said the new school should open in 2006 or 2007 before the Site 5B buildings.

Water St. site

The Site 5B plans could be before the community board within a few months and Gerson said it would be reasonable for C.B. 1 to expect the city to acquire the school site before the board recommends approving Site 5B.

George Arzt, a spokesperson for Milstein, said there is pending litigation with the city over 250 Water St. and his client would resist any effort to take it.

The vacant site was in the landmark district when the Milsteins bought it almost 20 years ago. They have proposed many designs for the block, but all but one were blocked by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which said the proposed towers were too tall for a district made up mostly of 19th century, structures of five and six stories. The commission approved one 14-story office building 10 years ago, but the project stalled because of a crumbling real estate market. Last year, the city changed the zoning in the landmark district and Milstein sued.

“Not only do we contend that it was an illegal act to downgrade the zoning, now they want to be punitive and take it away entirely,” Arzt said Thursday.

Gerson said the eminent domain proceedings would supersede the lawsuit and the Milsteins could make the same arguments about the zoning in a new forum. Gerson said if the Milsteins proved the zoning change was illegal, it would cost the city more to acquire the site. He said the whole issue could be resolved this year.

The city has $44 million in its capital budget for the school and Gerson said it will cost $25 million more to build. Doctoroff said Thursday that he expected the L.M.D.C. would contribute an unspecified amount for the school. The city controls half the L.M.D.C. board and it may not be difficult for Doctoroff to get $25 million out of the agency’s remaining $860 million.

The L.M.D.C. has already designated $50 million to build 315 affordable housing units at Site 5B, but Doctoroff said the city will spend the money other places in Lower Manhattan to build and preserve “substantially more” affordable apartments than would have been built at 5B.

Gerson agreed this would be a much more efficient use of the money and said Knickerbocker Village and Lands End 1 on the East Side, and Gateway Plaza in Battery Park City are three possible places the money could be used to keep middle class people in Lower Manhattan.

Details on Sites 5B and 5C

Many residents oppose tall buildings on the two Tribeca sites because they say the structures would dwarf buildings nearby and cast too many shadows on Washington Market Park and the P.S. 234 schoolyard. Gerson said putting the taller buildings on West St. would take the office bulk further away from smaller buildings. The 370-foot building would have a few large setbacks after 330 feet so it will not seem as tall as it is, he added.

Gerson said Minskoff wanted to build a fourth building at Site 5B and one of the last sticking points was giving C.B. 1 the power to veto a fourth residential building. The block will also have low-rise retail structures, possibly with the supermarket. Sheldrake Organization, an experienced residential developer has been talking with Minskoff about joining the project, according to two sources not connected with the developers.

At Site 5C, there would be 300-foot and 285-foot buildings on West St. along with the two 85-foot buildings with the rec center, annex and more apartments.

Gerson said there were many details that held up the talks along the way. Making sure the pool would be regulation – 75 feet and one inch – took time, as did moving a column off the basketball court. In addition to Wils, Gerson said Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, the expected operator of the Site 5C rec center, signed off on the 5C center details.

And there was one more item that the community representatives fought for and won. On the hot days when noisy construction is going on all around them, P.S. 234 students will be able to ask their teachers to close the gym windows, because they are getting air-conditioning in the gym, the only part of the building that doesn’t have it.


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