New York Today
Towers Would Wreck Governors Island’s Serenity, Lawsuit Says
A proposed office complex would ruin the “country place in the city,” even if it houses a climate change center, opponents argue.
By James Barron
Aug. 2, 2022, 12:02 a.m. ET
Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Scroll down to see why a State Senate candidate who’s 58 is glad he gets along with his mother, who’s 94. But first, a challenge to the city’s plan to make room on Governors Island for a climate change center.
Roger Manning acknowledges the irony of filing a lawsuit challenging an environmental review of an office complex that’s expected to be occupied by a climate change research center.
But the climate center is irrelevant, said Manning, a co-founder of the Metro Area Governors Island Coalition. “The issue was the rezoning. Heights. Densities.”
Now, a hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The land in question, as the name of Manning’s group suggests, is on Governors Island, across New York Harbor from Lower Manhattan.
Manning and others describe the island as shaped like an ice cream cone, with the climate center planned for the cone part. The ice cream part has buildings that date to 1794. The federal government sold both parts to the city for $1 in 1995.
The opponents’ concerns do not revolve around the importance of the climate change center, but around the buildings it would occupy.
They say the buildings would wreck the island, with towers that Manning said could go as high as 25 stories. That is short compared with the super-talls on Billionaires’ Row in Manhattan, but tall enough, Manning said, to cast shadows on the New York Harbor School, a public high school on the island that trains students for maritime and environmental careers. He also said the buildings would displace three urban farms, including one with a teaching garden that school groups can visit.
The lawsuit also takes issue with the idea of creating parking for 200 vehicles.
The city and the Trust for Governors Island, which oversees the island, say the climate center would create 7,000 jobs. Mayor Eric Adams mentioned the center in his “rebuild, renew, reinvent” blueprint for the city’s economic recovery in March. And in April, the trust announced four finalists in a competition for the climate center — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Stony Brook University and, in a joint application, the City University of New York and the New School. The winner is expected to be announced next year.
Manning’s lawsuit seeks to overturn the 2021 rezoning and save what he called “our country place in the city.” His group, a grass-roots organization formed in 2020, has been joined by more than 20 other plaintiffs, including the South Street Seaport Coalition and Kent Barwick, the president emeritus of the Municipal Art Society.
The trust, too, has high-powered supporters, including Tom Wright, the president and chief executive of the Regional Plan Association. “I think there’s a fundamental disagreement here,” Wright said on Monday, “which is while everybody wants to protect and preserve the unique nature of Governors Island, the question is, is the best way to do that with a partnership” along the lines of the strategy the trust has taken.
Manning called the city’s environmental impact statement “inadequate,” and the lawsuit says it “dodges the environmental consequences” of allowing buildings on the cone part of the island. The lawsuit also argues that the 2021 rezoning did not provide for 40 acres of dedicated parkland, in violation of the deed that came with the city’s $1 purchase of the island. The lawsuit says that 40 acres of parkland in the cone part of the island are “only zoned as ‘open space.’”
Sarah Krautheim, a spokeswoman for the trust, said it was “fully confident that the rezoning was undertaken and approved in accordance with the law.”