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Howard Hughes Corporation gets OK for Seaport District apartment tower

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Seaport District developer Howard Hughes Corporation got a “lot” of good news this week.

Capping a years-long struggle, the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Monday approved plans for a new apartment tower at 250 Water St. – which is now a one-acre empty lot.

The commission’s 6-2 vote allows HHC’s plan to begin the city’s seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure this month. The project doesn’t require a zoning change, but it needs a special permit for height and an air-rights transfer from the nearby Tin Building and Pier 17.

As part of ULURP, the proposal must be reviewed by the City Council. Its chances of approval are regarded as high as it’s backed by local member Margaret Chin. The full Council usually defers to the wishes of the local member on development issues.

HHC bought the land for $180 million in 2018 as part of its plan to redevelop the Seaport, where it created a new Pier 17. But its ambition for 250 Water St., which was a mostly empty eyesore for decades, was stymied by some locals who feared losing their river views and by the Landmarks panel as well, which rejected a larger scheme in January.

HHC revised the design and reduced it from 757,000 square feet to 550,000 square feet. Two 470-foot towers were scaled down into a single building 300 feet tall designed by SOM.

Even that was bitterly opposed by some neighborhood activists – especially residents of Southbridge Towers across the street who didn’t want their views blocked.

In fact, the former parking lot was squeezed into the South Street Seaport Historic District – where new projects require Landmarks approval – in the 1970s mainly to appease Southbridge residents who had the support of several elected officials.

A few Southbridge tenants even recently urged the city to use 250 Water as a tow pound in order to block construction. However, more than 700 locals wrote to the Landmarks panel in support of  HHC.

The $750 million-$800 million project will have community spaces, office suites and apartments, of which 70 will be affordable rentals.

It also includes a long-term commitment by HHC to keep the financially-strapped South Street Seaport Museum afloat.

 HHC tristate-region president Saul Scherl thanked the Landmarks Commission for its “thoughtful feedback.” He said the Water Street project would play a “vital role in the city’s inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery.”

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