Judge Sides With Seaport Tower Foes, Orders Temporary Construction Halt

The full-block site at 250 Water Street where a 324-foot residential tower is planned to rise. As part of the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program, the developer is excavating the property and trucking out soil contaminated with mercury and other toxins from a former thermometer factory. Photo: Wendy Cassidy

Oct. 11, 2022

The battle by opponents of a towering residential building in the South Street Seaport Historic District is not over. A State Supreme Court judge on Oct. 6 issued a temporary restraining order against the developer, Howard Hughes Corp., from going ahead with construction of the 324-foot-tall structure.

In its lawsuit, the Seaport Coalition claimed that the Landmarks Preservation Commission, along with a Hughes Corp. (HHC) affiliate, acted improperly when the commission approved the new building at 250 Water Street. The judge’s order will be in effect at least until Jan. 5, when lawyers for the city and Hughes Corp. must show why the commission’s certificate of appropriateness for the new building should not be invalidated. 

“This court acknowledges the huge negative financial impact of the temporary restraining order on the Developer,” Judge Arthur F. Engoron said in his written decision, “however, any wounds are self-inflicted, in as much as this Court believes both respondents failed to adhere to lawful procedure.” 

The developer’s ongoing cleanup of mercury and other toxic materials from the site, formerly the location of a thermometer factory, is allowed to continue.

The Seaport Coalition argues that the Landmarks Commission “abused its discretion” when it allowed a building of the same scale as others it had rejected in the past. It also alleges that the agency was swayed by the Howard Hughes Corp.’s linkage of the approval with financial support for the struggling South Street Seaport Museum. Then there is its claim that documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Laws show that the commission’s chair and senior staff allowed themselves to be influenced by the developer through meetings with representatives of the Hughes Corp. and the de Blasio administration, even to the point of what the suit calls “rehears[ing] for the public hearing.” The coalition includes three groups that oppose the tower: Save Our Seaport, Southbridge Towers, and Children First. 

A Hughes Corp. spokesman declined to respond to questions about the impact of the temporary restraining order on the developers construction schedule. (The building is slated to open in 2026.) In an email statement, the spokesman said, “We firmly disagree with this ruling. Regardless of this decision, we remain confident that this lawsuit is meritless and courts will agree that the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval of our project was proper and made in full accordance of the Landmarks Law.” When it was first filed, HHC called the suit “deeply out of touch” and “a stunt.” 

In October 2021, Engoron dismissed a similar lawsuit by the plaintiffs as not being “ripe for judicial review” because the LPC’s approval had yet to be finalized.

The $850 million project, on a full-block lot on the western side of the historic district, is planned to include 190 market-rate condos and 80 below-market apartments, with a 5-story base of office, retail and community uses.