City Council Panel Okays Proposal to Convert Water Street Arcades to Retail

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The City Council’s Subcommittee on Zonings and Franchises voted on Tuesday to approve a controversial zoning measure that seeks to convert to commercial, retail use more than 100,000 square feet of public space in arcades along Water Street.

Tuesday’s vote will be followed by a vote of the Council’s Land Use Committee, and another (on June 21) of the City Council as a whole. But multiple sources agree that these votes are largely a formality, and that Tuesday’s decision makes ultimate passage of the measure a virtual fait accompli.

The proposal, known as the Water Street Text Amendment, is controversial because the storefronts created by this move will be enormously valuable, but the building owners who reap this benefit will pay nothing for the additional space. Instead, these developers will be required to upgrade the open plazas in front of their towers, and invest in resiliency measures that would harden their skyscrapers against flooding. (Both the arcades and the plazas were created decades ago, when the buildings were constructed, in exchange for allowing the structures to rise higher, with more floor space, than otherwise would have been legally permitted.) Supporters of the Water Street proposal view this as a pragmatic and equitable quid pro quo.

Critics decry it as a giveaway of public space for private profit.

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