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What New York Residents Fear Is Old and Underground

In one neighborhood, tourists are fighting over what may be a toxic site
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2019 11:00 AM CDT
An intersection in the South Street Seaport, New York, NY.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Residents of a historic New York City neighborhood have two fears—toxic mercury and over-development—and they're combined at the former site of a 19th-century factory, the New York Times reports. South Street Seaport, a low-rise area now popular with tourists, once included a thermometer factory at 250 Water Street where workers filled glass tubes with liquid mercury. Enter the Howard Hughes Corporation, which is developing the area and snapped up the land (now a parking lot) for $180 million. Howard Hughes wants to remediate it, a typical move before building, and will likely try to erect something that exceeds the area's 12-story zoning limit. "We're opposed to overcommercialization, overdevelopment and toxic contamination,” says a woman involved in the nonprofit Save Our Seaport.

But development experts say it's time to enter the 21st century. "We can't as a city allow a critical site like this one to remain undeveloped when there's so much need for housing, for commercial space," says an executive at the developer RXR. Indeed, developers across NYC are ducking zoning rules (and building high-rises) by offering neighborhoods affordable housing. But after Howard Hughes promised a rooftop park on another Seaport building and built a loud concert space instead, residents are wary. "They snowed us," says one. "We were promised a beautiful roof with grass, a play area for the kids." Apropos, children could be even more susceptible to dangerous mercury vapors if the site isn't fully cleaned—if there's mercury there at all. "250 Water Street is becoming a hostage situation," says a resident. (Read more New York City stories.)

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