Seaport Coalition wins round one against tower

The opponents of the tower planned for 250 Water in the Seaport Historic District won a lawsuit in state Supreme Court earlier this month, stopping construction on the site — at least for now.

The Seaport Coalition, which includes Southbridge Towers, Save Our Seaport and Children First, sued the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission for violating its own mandate when it approved Howard Hughes Corp.’s plans for the full block development site. Judge Arthur Engoron agreed, and his decision declared the developer’s Certificate of Appropriateness null and void, meaning construction had to stop. (You can download the decision here on the coalition’s site.)

The decision delves into the history of the site, going back to the 1980s, and notes that four times, Landmarks refused to approve applications for high-rise development there. The fact that it approved it this time, denying the agency’s own precedent, made it clear that the approval was “arbitrary and capricious,” according to case law. He also balked at the fact that the developers were offering cash for the South Street Seaport Museum as part of the deal.

“LPC is tasked with a particular mission, to wit, to preserve the historical character of designated areas and buildings, and here, it abused that discretion by diverging from a prior practice without explaining why,” Engoron stated in the decision. He went on: “The Citizens of New York City are entitled to feel confident that a controversial, counterintuitive decision to allow a skyscraper to be built in a low-rise historic district after repeated decisions disallowing such a structure, and without a coherent explanation, was made solely on the merits and not because of a quid pro quo, even one with the laudable purpose of museum funding. The instant record does not justify any such confidence.”

This, of course, is not the end. In a statement, a Howard Hughes Corp. spokesman said, “We respectfully disagree with Judge Engoron’s decision and believe that the Appellate Division will overturn this decision in due course.”

The Howard Hughes Corp.’s plans for the full block between Pearl and Water, Peck Slip and Beekman (see more here and here) call for a 26-story mixed use development with 270 apartments, 70 of which will be affordable rentals, plus office, retail and community space. The site has to be remediated for mercury, and that work will continue in the meantime.




  1. Setting aside the legal merits of the case, as a policy, economic and urban design matter the proposed project is unequivocally a net positive for the neighborhood and city.

    Aside from higher/better use of a contaminated parking lot, increased city tax revenues and more transit-adjacent housing, the building’s design very thoughtfully steps up from the lower-density historic district to the higher-density periphery. The primary reason for this project being contested is not on account of preserving the historic character of the Seaport, but rather the preservation of a water viewshed for the (very tall, and unattractive) apartment building across the street. NIMBYism at its worst.

    And FWIW, I have no affiliation w the developer and have no financial interest in this particular development, but I would like to see every single parking lot in this city developed into dense, mixed-use housing for all income levels. There is simply not enough housing in Manhattan – for rich or poor, and everything in between – to keep up w demand.

    • I couldn’t agree more! I hope this is overturned on appeal. The opponents don’t just not want this building. They don’t want any building.

    • Well stated; every single parking lot in this city developed into dense, mixed-use housing for all income levels. Agreed. So tired of the folks who dont work dont care, dont have to worry about housing costs influencing decisions made for the better good. And its not like there are no tall buildings around. Decision should be overruled and Judge should be send to a class on modernization on making more wholistic decisions.


    “Engoron will get overruled . . . eventually, as he was not long ago when he halted the Two Bridges project, complaining, ‘These are huge towers. I’ve lived in the city my whole life. You can’t just do this because the zoning allows it. I just can’t believe this is the case.’ Somehow, he’s still on the bench.”

  3. The people of Southbridge should be ashamed of themselves for stopping affordable housing. They literally won the lottery when they converted their low-income housing buildings to co-op and now they’re stealing a good thing from 70 other families. It’s really amazing.

    • Southbridge was not low-income, Mitchell-Lama was and always has been middle income housing. Don’t denigrate the community even if you disagree with them.

    • Also, you are talking about 70 families: if HHC cared so much about housing families, they’d toss the luxury playbook.

      Southbridge houses over 1,600 families downtown. The 250 Water St lot is over a seventh of the SBT lot area. They could go miles further in housing families if they built more appropriately.

  4. Pinch me — all five comments thus far strongly support the 250 Water Street project and condemn not just the judge’s ruling but the NIMBY opponents who brought the lawsuit.

    I just wrote to our (District 1) councilmember Chris Marte, pointing out this rare show of unanimity and urging him to reconsider his opposition. I encourage others to do likewise, via

    • I live in the area. We need open space, parking, low rise buildings and ball fields.

    • Charles,
      My relatives live in the area.
      Since you favor biking as opposed to bus and subway mass transit, you apparently are not aware that the Fulton Street 2/3 platform is incredibly narrow and cannot accommodate more people – it is an accident waiting to happen.
      Similarly the M15 bus is always packed.
      The nearby area – John/Fulton/Beekman/Nassau etc – has been completely overdeveloped with luxury housing, hotels.

  5. HHC should donate the land to the city to build a 2-story Museum and Community Center with ball fields on the roof.

    God bless you

  6. It is so obvious the ” affordable housing” is just an excuse, a shiny cover to pretend 250 Water st. has a heart for low-income, the truth is this developer has many buildings/towers at West Seaport that have zero low income unites, so suddenly got a heart for low income! No, it is about Money/investment $$$$$ to find a way around the Seaport zoning code/area also due to the potential mercury on the ground from the previous ancient factory/facility on this ground.

    I hope human rights of district 1, implementing law, respecting historical Seaport zoning area, two elementary schools, and health issues will WIN against legal loopholes of 250 Water street using taxation relief/affordable housing as a cover for only one true reason make more millions $$$$$$.

  7. 1. The plaintiffs are in favor of affordable housing as long as the developer follows the rules.
    2. In 2003 the area was “downzoned” to 120 feet. The developer is proposing a project three times this size.
    3. The Judge’s decision was based upon the developer using “affordable housing” as political cover to gain the support of the lame duck council member before her term of office was up.
    4. The only story here is that approvals at the Landmarks Preservation Commission are now “for sale” to developers who team up with worthy non-profits. This violates their charter mandate.

  8. I agree that this is needed and the opponents are just hiding behind the historic district designation. A building like this will bring Jane Jacobs-type of mixed-use, mixed socio-economic vibrancy to a “dead without tourists” neighborhood. I believe the affordable housing units will be permanently designated. That is a big concession by the developer. VIA57 development has a lot of affordable units but they are not permanent. The developer resisted any such designation which, like all of the Mitchel-Lama Housing of the 50’s-60’s (Independence Plaza), will revert back to market rate someday. And please, enough with the dollar signs already, no one wants to make an investment like this unless there is a return. You wouldn’t take job for no pay right?

  9. The land currently used as private vehicle storage is very expensive so the very high density housing will make very good economic sense for the developers. This is too bad. It would make a great place for a park. But then, so would the lot soon to be next to Grand Central. A more contextual development would be better for the area as a whole. I’m not talking a row of brownstones. We can have density that isn’t disgusting. Look at Paris or the Upper West Side. But cookie cutter mega tall modern “luxury” buildings are, like scaffolds, a thing we seem to accept with depressed resignation. It’s too bad. The classic building we all love in NYC are quirky cast iron and masonry, usually 6-14 floors. They aren’t glassy behemoths yet somehow they still make economic sense over a century after they were built by the thousands!

  10. I respectfully disagree. While a building would be a net positive for New York City on a parking lot, a building that is 324 foot high inside an historic district with mostly 6 story buildings will completely overwhelm the South Street Seaport Historic District. It is also important that the Landmarks Preservation Commission follow the law, which LPC did not (otherwise Judge Engoron would have found that they did). It is very scary that the developer was in private conversations on a nearly weekly basis to get the right “cover” to get approval for this project. I am for development of 250 Water Street, so long as it is within the height restrictions of 120 feet, which I believe is still too high, but certainly doable. Thank you.

  11. Of course this is about the views, the views over and beyond the low-rise historic district that Howard Hughes Corp wants to sell in its proposed tower. It’s also about the views that we have, those of us who live and work in the district, those from around the city, from around the world, who visit the seaport and who will look up to see a wall of steel, stone and glass where there was once open sky. Most of Southbridge Towers does not look over 250 Water Street, and most of the apartments that do would have their views blocked by a building made to the zoned height. No one has objected to such a structure.
    It’s also about an incursion into a designated historic district and therefore a dangerous precedent for our city. As for affordable housing, that is not in the Howard Hughes Real Estate business model, one that uses a cycle of high-end retail and increasingly affluent tenants to increase value for it’s stockholders. That’s good for CEO Bill Ackman, but it’s gentrification to the rest of us.
    The Landmarks Preservation Commission was formed with a mandate to prevent this kind of nonsense. It has done so in the South Street Seaport Historic District repeatedly until now. And now it has been called to task for the lapse.

  12. The political cover used with the money offered to the museum and the 70 units the HHC is offering is a joke. The first building renderings had a separate entrance for the affordable housing units. The community who actually live in the area oppose this tower. It will over power the block and cause 5 years of construction and possible damage to the historic buildings in the area.

  13. In many prior undertaking by the developer H.H.C. has promised to include affordable housing units in their developments. Has anyone actually seen in writing an agreement as to the number of apartments they are promising to provide here in the Seaport and under what conditions? In Ward Village Honolulu as a condition for gaining approval to develop the land they made similar promises. However, upon completion, it become clear that those units were not being maintained affordable to those who need them most. They were being used instead as a means of increasing profits and gentrifying neighborhoods at the expense of the very tenants who moved in to the affordable housing units. Only after did they find out when the H.H.C. increased their maintenance burden. Tenants were forced to file for bankruptcy since in many cases they were locked into their “affordable housing”.
    It is clear that H.H.C.’s actions have not protected the very people who were meant to benefit from their affordable housing promises. I urge the City of New York and community leaders to take a closer look at the actions of H.H.C. and hold them accountable for their failures to deliver on their promises in their developments that a simple google search verify.

  14. I wish people would stop talking about the parking lot. It totally missed the real sordid story It’s a only a temporary parking lot because the buildings on the lot we are left till they fell into disrepair and were knocked down, the previous developer who got permission to build under the zoning requirements, decided not to build.
    Instead, the real story is about a bully developer who doesn’t want to follow the rules that every other builder in the historic district has had to follow. Before commenting, everyone should read the actual decision. It reads like a novel of political corruption. They will see clearly it’s about behind the scenes, secret backlot dealing, It’s also about a developer buying air rights from the city in a non-competitive process and asking the city to use that public money to support a private museum and then the developers saying they are bailing out the museum themselves, as a bribe to get a favourable permit from a supposed independent public agency. And as far as affordable housing? Make no mistake. This is a luxury tower with the few affordable units and the community space shrinking and changing with each new iteration. Follow the money!

  15. It should all go back to the drawing board and the LPC staff and commissioners involved in the approvals should all be investigated and punishments should include jail time.

  16. What about the extra traffic at the entrance to the bridge across the street and to the FDR Drive. But really what I want to say is reading all of these comments makes me think downtown is filled with law breakers who do not care that there are building requirements in place for that area. May as well disband the Landmark Commission so you guys can take over.