CB3 Panel Plans to Discuss SPURA Housing Issues in the Spring

Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

This week, a CB3 panel began to telegraph the road ahead in the elusive quest for the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.  The land use, zoning and housing committee has been meeting for many months, in search of a consensus plan for the development site — a flashpoint for neighborhood tensions since 1967.

Chairman David McWater told members Tuesday evening the long-awaited conversation about the types of housing to be built on the SPURA parcels would finally begin in April.  Late last year, he delayed discussion of the controversial topic, fearing the committee had not yet built up enough trust to successfully navigate the issue. In the past, community groups have feuded bitterly about the amount of affordable housing to build.

Next month, McWater said, there will be a presentation from city officials outlining proposed next steps in the planning process for 10 city owned lots adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge. In another sign of progress, McWater said the city had offered to hire an urban design expert to work with the community board on a plan.  Eventually, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) would issue a “Request for Proposals,” in which private developers would be invited to bid on the project.  EDC officials conceded there wouldn’t likely be much interest from developers now, but they anticipate the economy will have improved in a year or two when the planning process is complete.

McWater suggested various people, including CB3 Chair Dominic Pisciotta, want to move the process along. Some members of the panel agreed, saying they wanted a timetable for completing a proposal. Currently the committee meets once a month, addressing SPURA and other zoning issues, as needed. Pisciotta has asked McWater to convene a second monthly meeting as a way of accelerating progress on the SPURA plan.

Also Tuesday night, the committee listened to a presentation from the SPURA Matters coalition. Made up of many community organizations, the coalition conducted visioning sessions and a survey, asking residents what they’d like to see happen on the SPURA parcels. We reported on the SPURA Matters findings last year.  In short, those surveyed expressed a strong desire for affordable housing but indicated a willingness to accept certain trade-offs (including the existence of market rate housing).

Michael Zisser of University Settlement, a coalition partner, said he believed the survey results were very useful and should be integrated into the committee’s work. McWater responded that he could not tell members how much weight to give to any piece of information. He said it would be up to each individual to evaluate the report’s findings.