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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

Comments on the Phased Redevelopment of Governors Island

The Governors Island Trust holds title to 150 acres of the 172-acre island; the remaining 22 acres is owned by the National Park Service and is a National Monument. Governors Island is located in New York Harbor, approximately 800 yards south of Manhattan and 400 yards west of Brooklyn. Governors Island is part of Manhattan Community Board One.

The Governors Island Trust introduced a sweeping land use action, named The Phased Redevelopment of Governors Island, proposing among other things to enable up to 4.5 million gross square feet of development on the South Island.  The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development is the lead agency.

Manhattan Community Board One reached out to other Manhattan Community Boards seeking comments on the proposal, as Governors Island is a citywide resource and its redevelopment will have long lasting impacts for residents and stakeholders in other parts of the city, including Manhattan Community Board Five (M-CB5). Community Board Five reviewed the proposal from the Governor’s Island Trust. 

The following outlines our comments regarding the proposal:

Overall the development plan has a lot of adverse potential issues that impact zoning, city planning, environmental concerns, and the Brooklyn and Manhattan waterfronts.  However, we are focusing our comments on citywide impact from the perspective of M-CB5.

M-CB5 acknowledges that Governors Island is a valuable asset for the city-at-large and must maintain its current footprint for open space and park activities.  Development such as ball fields, walking paths, outdoor recreation areas, outdoor events, day camps, etc. would be the preferred choices for future development. It would serve the public interest even if these outdoor activities are limited during the off-season or winter months. M-CB5 does not believe that the scope of the proposed development lives up to this stated purpose and, instead, takes away valuable public space for speculative commercial purposes. 

M-CB5 believes that the city must be committed to providing accessibility to the island.  Any developments without a commitment to an accessibility master plan for increased ferries or transportation options to the island in its current state are unfounded.

M-CB5 also feels that the strategy that Governors Island has to be developed or upzoned/rezoned in order to generate or increase its revenue to serve a self-funding modality is deeply flawed. The redevelopment states that Governors Island must generate revenue to pay for the services that it would provide to its users and to the city. This economic model is a flawed and challenging precedent for public parks and open spaces citywide. It would allow and justify commercial development within other city parks and open spaces in order to fund the services they provide. This strategy by the Governors Island Trust doesn’t suit the best interests of the city or the public interest. Governors Island currently generates $5 million annual revenue. Additional revenue could be generated by Governors Island without development of a built environment. Furthermore, the model proposed is based on an aleatory and speculative revenue stream from the sale of development rights.

New York City’s growing population is not adequately served by its existing large parks, whether Central Park, Prospect Park or Randall’s Island, which are wonderful and much needed but also overused. The need for additional open space, especially for residents of Manhattan and Brooklyn, is dire. 

The city should not sacrifice open space on Governors Island in order to attempt to create an artificial market demand for year-round development. Instead, the city and the Trust should continue to promote ways for the public-at-large to enjoy the island during the core May-September season by increasing accessibility. Thoughtful programming should be developed for the off-season, to extend the usability of the open space.

M-CB5 believes that the rationale for this proposal would create a lethal precedent that could lead to further reduction in public funding for parks and to further encroachment from developers on public parks and open space.

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