McWater Wants SPURA Plan By December

Seward Park redevelopment area.

Housing rights advocates fought for a stronger stance in support of affordable housing Monday night, as a committee of Community Board 3 came close to completing a “statement of principles” for the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). Chairman David McWater, vowing to have a plan by the end of the year,  nudged the economic development, planning and zoning committee towards a consensus.

SPURA consists of 10 sites near Delancey and Essex Streets that have languished for 40 years as community groups feuded bitterly about how they should be developed. Specifically, supporters of affordable housing and Grand Street Co-op residents have never been able to agree on the mix of low income, middle income and market rate housing to be built.

There now seems to be general agreement, within the committee at least, that the redevelopment plan should include an equal mix of all three types of housing. But the devil is in the details. Both groups are determined to make sure the statement that’s drafted reflects their own priorities.

Moving forward was difficult Monday, since none of the most vocal representatives of the Grand Street residents were present. McWater and CB3 Chairman Dominic Pisciotta were hesitant about making changes to the document with a key constituency absent – the very same group that derailed the last attempt to develop SPURA six years ago.

McWater has sought to drive the process forward, focusing on what the diverse group can agree on, while pushing off contentious discussions about their differences to a later date. At the meeting, however, one committee member, Damaris Reyes spoke forcefully in favor of stronger language advocating “affordable housing.” Last month, the committee decided to eliminate that phrase, when the Grand Street faction argued that it’s a loaded term which means different things to different people. On Monday, Reyes proposed new, more specific language, “low, moderate and middle income housing.”

In the past, the Grand Street residents have argued that the Lower East Side already has more than its fair share of low income housing. But Reyes and another member, Mary Spink, said most of those apartments are in the projects, where “affordability” can be fleeting. Reyes said “we’re losing publc housing like crazy.”  Spink argued that it was not enough to provide low income housing now. She wanted a guarantee that it would be protected in the future from market driven pressures.

The committee settled on a statement that said, in part, “any low, moderate or middle income component should remain so in perpetuity.” In the end, McWater said he believed the Grand Street residents would not have a problem with the agreed upon language. He intends to forward the revised statement to them. If there are no objections, it will be sent on to the full CB3 board. Once the statement is complete, the committee will solicit feedback from a broad cross-section of the community and begin to develop more specific blueprints.

Also Monday night, city planning officials gave a tutorial on the ten plots that make up SPURA, outlining current zoning and other limitations. We’ll have more on that later this week.