Op-Ed: 250 Water Street

Susan Damplo

I support development. But development is not an end unto itself. It must be a means to promote our local economy. As we here in New York City emerge from the greatest global public health crisis in the last century, we must partner with our business sector to build back better. That requires an inclusive approach, an approach that ensures that residents, businesses, and government work together to advance shared interests, not create wedges among them. 

Before the pandemic, it felt like real estate developers worked against residents and community organizations. Some politicians were manipulated by giveaways in the form of campaign contributions or “donations” to local interests. 

I’m running to ask you all: does it have to be this way? Just because a developer buys a property and wants to build a non-conforming structure, must we as a community accept this? In New York City Council District 1, we have an out-of-state developer that wants to build a luxury skyscraper that exceeds height restrictions in the area, a designated historic district, by almost three times. Interestingly, the developer had initially sought to develop a taller structure just outside the historic district, but that effort had been defeated by public opposition. A pyrrhic victory? 

Were you asked if the new plan makes sense? I know I wasn’t. New York City is digging itself deeper and deeper into a hole with unaffordable housing. Every new development that sets aside affordable housing is underprojecting. Estimates show 43% of New York 

City housing needs to be affordable to meet the current population’s needs. If you set aside $100 to $200 per month to pay your rent but your rent is $430, you’ll go deeper and deeper into debt with every passing day. We need in the short term to create much higher percentages of affordable housing with development to begin to address the shortfall. This proposal is offering about 20% affordable housing units. You do the math. 

South Street Seaport is the birthplace of our port city. Our nation’s founding father, George Washington, bid farewell to the troops in that historic district. We have a museum that is struggling to preserve the area’s history and its importance to both our beloved City and our nation’s founding. 

But does that museum’s struggle mean a Texas-based planned community developer should tell New Yorkers to put aside historic preservation for a $50 million gift to that museum so a 32-story luxury mixed use skyscraper can be built where it doesn’t belong? Or should those issues be uncoupled? The community must rally to support the museum with a reasonable revenue stream. The developer should be encouraged to explore suitable alternative venues for development.

It’s up to us. Our voices matter. We live and work here. Our children play and go to school here. Our elders live out their days here. Be heard. Vote, advocate, and stand up for what’s sensible. Preserve the integrity of South Street Seaport. Show developers that they are welcome, but they must work with us to develop sensibly, in areas where tall structures are harmonious, not smack in the heart of our historic center. Maybe before the global pandemic this City might have shrugged and gone along. But after surviving COVID, are we really going to be intimidated again?

Susan Damplo is running for City Council District 1

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