The Howard Hughes Corporation will get a third chance in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission with its South Street Seaport tower proposal.
After a volley of public comments Tuesday over revised plans for a mixed-use development at 250 Water Street — during which the New York Landmarks Conservancy reversed its previous position, throwing its support behind the project — members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission offered their view.
That view can largely be summed up by a comment from commissioner Everardo Jefferson: “I’m torn on this one.”
The plans Howard Hughes and architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill presented to the commission call for a 27-story, 550,000-square-foot building, with 19 floors of residential units atop five floors of offices and ground-floor retail. The developer has already revised the plan once; previously, it was to rise 470 feet and be 757,000 square feet. The development would go on what has long been a parking lot.
Landmarks’ chair, Sarah Carroll, said that enough commissioners have an “open mind” about a taller building in the Seaport, but further refinements may be necessary to gain the majority vote that the project needs to advance to the city’s public land-use review, perhaps next month. Based on commissioners’ comments, those could include lowering the street wall to conform with surrounding buildings, meaning lower ceilings and shorter windows for office space in the proposed tower.
Bigger buildings add “vibrancy and dynamism” to historic districts, Carroll noted, as long as “undue attention to the new” doesn’t come “at the expense of the historic.”
Commissioners Jeanne Lufty and Adi Shamir-Baron expressed similar sentiments, while noting their reservations about the proposed building’s 75-foot-tall base.
“The neighborhood is evolving,” said Lufty. “There’s going to be more population here.”
Other commissioners maintained that the revised proposal was still out of scale with the historic district.
“[Howard Hughes’] project would bring the height and mass of the surrounding modern city into the clearly delineated precinct of the historic district,” said commissioner Michael Goldblum. The proposed 345-foot tower must be shortened substantially to win his support, he added.
Members of the commission also disagreed over whether the revised building proposal would encroach on the historic district by placing a tower on the east side of Pearl Street, which separates the historic area from the Financial District, or help define its boundary.
“We are evaluating potential modifications in response to the commission’s comments,” a spokesperson for Howard Hughes said.
A simple majority of the LPC’s 11 commissioners needs to approve the project to advance it to the land-use review, in which the City Council has the final say. Council member Margaret Chin, who represents the district, has expressed support for the development, which makes Landmarks’ vote the make-or-break moment for Howard Hughes.
Howard Hughes has said if denied approval, it would build a 160-foot-tall structure — 120 feet as-of-right plus an additional 40 feet permitted in a flood zone. That smaller project would not come with any affordable units or a subsidy for the Seaport Museum. The commission is expected to issue its decision in the coming weeks.