65 Commercial St. ULURP: Air Rights

by Heather Van De Mark on

There is no greater feeling than to ask and to receive. Recently, we posted a breakdown of the upcoming ULURP actions for the Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial St. developments. More importantly though, we asked you, our readers and our neighbors, to tell us what you think of these ULURP requests, what your concerns are and what demands you want to make moving forward.

Lucky us, you’ve started to respond! We’ll be posting the messages we receive throughout the summer as the CB1 ULURP meeting approaches. If we don’t post your message, don’t worry–we’ve seen it, we’ve read it, and we’re taking it into account as we try to create a community-based plan of attack–figurative attack, not literal. And don’t worry, we won’t post anything without contacting you first. Without further ado…

Excerpt of an e-mail from a Greenpoint resident:

With respect to 77 Commercial Street, I personally believe that development should be limited to what is permitted as-of-right. These proppsed parks are just as much an amenity for the residential towers as they are for the existing community. Developers marketing the buildings have just as much of an interest in seeing the parks built (perhaps even more so) than current Greenpoint residents. At some point in the near or distant future, there will be interest in an as-of-right development on that parcel, and it seems to me that there will be more pressure to create the Box Street Park once the city is collecting revenue and receiving pressure from neighboring Greenpoint Landing. Luxury units don’t want views of inaccessible parking lots.

That being said, I would like to know what the potential outcomes would be if the air rights from the MTA lot do not go to 77 Commercial Street. Would the MTA lot be developed as affordable housing promised by the points of agreement? If the city is committed to selling the development rights, is upzoning an adjacent parcel the only way to have open space on the MTA lot?

In Response: Let’s take a step back when discussing 65 and 77 Commercial Street. According to the 2005 Points of Agreement (POA), 65 Commercial Street was always supposed to be developed for open space (once the MTA operations were relocated.) (3) The City was supposed to allocate $14 million in 2007 for the creation of this open space (now being called Box Street Park). (3) I don’t know exactly what happened other than that $14 million and the park never came to fruition. So to reiterate, 65 Commercial St. was always supposed to be for an open space not for affordable housing.

How does affordable housing fit into the picture? In the 2005 POA, the sale of air rights from 65 Commercial St. will “require the purchaser to create 200 units of affordable housing.” (10) And this is the plan that’s going through ULURP right now. 77 Commercial St. will buy the air rights for $8 million and the community gets affordable housing and Box St. Park.


The City isn’t required to sell the air rights, but they are allowed to. (10) And a sale of the air rights would indeed mean an upzoning of an adjacent parcel. If they don’t sell the air rights, there’s no incentive to create Box St. Park (other than the whole broken promises thing, misallocated $14 million from 2007.) It’s possible that if the ULURP doesn’t pass, nothing will happen at 65 Commercial St.

Other interesting facts from the 2005 POA:
The revenue from the sale of the air rights was “projected to be up to $12 million.” (10) Yet, 77 Commercial St. is getting the air rights for $8 million. Why the decrease in price tag on such valuable, prime waterfront space?

And the money from the air rights is supposed to be used in one of two ways: Waterfront Affordable Housing Infrastructure Fund and/or Greenpoint Williamsburg Tenant Legal Fund. (10) Yet, the current conversation is based around that $8 million being used to fund the clean-up and construction of Box St. Park. So where exactly will that $8 million go? And why is it always a battle between affordable housing and open space?

View the complete 2005 Points of Agreement online.

Heather Van De Mark

Heather Van De Mark

Heather is a designer/writer specializing in non-profit organizations and social causes. Originally from central NY, Heather settled into the charming Greenpoint neighborhood in 2011. While most of her community activism takes place from behind a computer screen, Heather can often be found at CB1 meetings, the McCarren Park track and any of the parks along the waterfront.
  • carolyn bednar commented:

    I agree with the position of the Greenpoint resident asking the above question…that the air rights SHOULD NOT be transferred and that the 77 development should be limited to 15 stories. I understand that affordable units will not be built here, however, the preservation of the integrity of our neighborhood must be preserved. We are a two-six story neighborhood primarily, and NW Greenpoint is currently a quiet sleepy hamlet. Residents on these few blocks want to do anything possible to preserve this atmosphere. Building smaller towers brings in fewer people and less bulk. Affordable housing lotteries only bring in outsiders. Only up to 50% of these units will go to locals anyway, plus there will be plenty of affordable housing units offered up at Greenpoint landing.

    Regarding the park: The park WILL get built at some point. Let’s not kid ourselves that the park and the air rights go hand in hand. These developers also want 65 Commercial to be an open space..they do because it increases their property value. At the very least the space will become a community garden and it will take no funds.

    Bottom line, block the bulk waiver at 77 Commercial street by not selling the air rights and trust that the community will make the green space happen if the developers and the city fail us.


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