Downtown Tower Developer Seeks CB1 Approval
By Andrea Appleton
POSTED JUNE 8, 2007
One more towering glass building—this one 63 stories—may soon join the bumper crop planned for Lower Manhattan. But first the 725-foot tower at 50 West Street, near Rector Street, must survive an extensive city-mandated review.
That’s what brought the developer, Time Equities, Inc., before combined committees of Community Board 1 on June 6 as they sought the board’s advisory approval. The transparent glass building would house about 300 condos and a 155-room high-end hotel, and would include a public plaza.
A Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) is required because the developer wants several exemptions to the current zoning, as well as permission to purchase air rights from the Brooklyn Battery Garage across the street. Once CB1 has reviewed the plans, they will go to Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, followed by the City Planning Department, and finally to the City Council.
At the meeting of CB 1’s combined Financial District, Battery Park City and Quality of Life/Affordable Housing Committees, Philip Gesue, acquisitions director for Time Equities, Inc., argued that the city was getting something special in the bargain. The tower’s design is by the well-known architect, Helmut Jahn, and a plaza along the Joseph P. Ward and Washington Street edges of the lot would provide a pedestrian-friendly route between the southern part of Battery Park City and the rest of Lower Manhattan. Now, the only direct route from West Street to Washington Street in the area is through the Brooklyn Battery Garage or up a dark sidewalk hemmed in between the garage and the adjoining building.
“Everybody who crosses the street here winds up walking up the middle of Joseph P. Ward Street because this sidewalk is so narrow and dirty,” said Gesue. “It’s dangerous and illegal, and doesn’t contribute to the fabric of the community.” He added that developers are aiming for gold-level LEED certification, the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest rating.
But CB 1 members seemed unconvinced that the development would be good for the community.
“You keep using very negative words to describe our neighborhood,” said board member Linda Belfer, a Battery Park City resident. “’Desolate’ and ‘gritty.’ We love our neighborhood, and what you’re proposing to do is going to vastly change it.”
Among the changes they foresee, board members mentioned the increase in traffic and the burden on local schools from the influx of new residents, as well as the overall change to the neighborhood’s character the tall glass building would bring.
To help mitigate effects on P.S./I.S. 89 Gesue said Time Equities, Inc. plans to buy 159 laptop computers for the schools. These would be distributed to all of the classrooms, making the computer room that the two schools now share obsolete and allowing P.S. 89 to add a classroom. Gesue said Time Equities, Inc. would also fund a full-time computer maintenance person for the schools for four years.
“The impact on the school, the growth, directly affects P.S. 89,” said I.S. 89 principal Ellen Foote, who attended the meeting, “but indirectly affects I.S. 89. We’re being squeezed and the only way to maintain an appropriate level of technology is to go by this route.”
While board members applauded the offer, it did not seem to appease them.
“What we’re trying to do tonight,” said chair Julie Menin, “is give you a sense of our needs, and how you can mitigate the severe impacts which this project will have on our community.”
Menin suggested some projects the developer might undertake, such as improving two small parks on Edgar Street, and adding benches and lighting to the streetscape around 50 West St. Others on the board suggested the building should include a cultural amenity.
Board member Bill Love proposed that the plans should include a new pedestrian bridge. “We need a permanent bridge connecting the southern part of Battery Park City to the other side of West Street,” he said. “It seems to me that your building is really an ideal location for such a bridge to terminate.”
Gesue said he would be open to considering the bridge proposal once the ULURP process was successfully completed. But about most of the other requests, he was noncommittal.
“We didn’t come here tonight with a stripped-down building that doesn’t offer a whole lot to you and expect to be in a trading session here,” he said.
The committees will meet again on June 18 to discuss the proposal and hammer out a resolution. The next evening, the full board will vote on it.
Among the complex zoning modifications in the application is a request to “demap” several areas associated with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel Approach. This would allow the developer to purchase air rights from the city, essentially buying them from the garage across the street. This would allow the building to add 183,000 square feet to the only 275,000 square feet that is currently allowed in the zoning.
Board members were emphatic about where the money from selling the air rights ought to go if the application is passed.
“The city is obviously getting substantial money for them,” said Menin. “I feel strongly that these proceeds must go into Lower Manhattan to benefit our community.”
The committees will meet again to consider the application on June 18 at 6 p.m., at 49-51 Chambers St., Room 709.