CB3 Presents Draft SPURA Guidelines

Last night, Community Board 3 accomplished something naysayers said was impossible — they presented a (draft) proposal for the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA).  And they suggested the full board could vote on a version of the detailed guidelines as early as next month. It’s important to note that some members of CB3’s SPURA task force have major problems with some of the provisions — and more contentious discussions surely lay ahead. But as one city official in attendance said, “the fact that you’ve gotten this far is huge.”

The guidelines, sketched out by CB3 leaders, are based on the task force’s deliberations in the past 2-and-a-half years. They amount to a set of detailed principles for developing the 7-acre site next to the Williamsburg Bridge, a parcel that has languished for 43 years.

In a nutshell, they call for building a mixed-use, mixed income project that provides a significant amount of housing, but also retail (to spur the neighborhood’s ailing economy).  The plan says “approximately 30% of all (housing) units should be reserved for low income households”  — 10-30% for moderate and middle income residents. The document adds, “40-60% of all units should be available at market rate values.” Although CB3 might not specify the total number of housing units (at least not right now), everyone’s assuming there would be around one-thousand apartments.

The most vocal opponent of the proposal last night was Damaris Reyes, the executive director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES). She criticized one of the underlying principles — that the project would be self-financing — and not reliant on government subsidies. She called on the committee to consider the feasibility of including a non-profit housing developer in the project. “Forty to 60 percent market rate is problematic,” Reyes warned.  “My role going forward is to push for the most I can get for my community.”

David McWater, the task force’s chairman, emphasized the proposal is not final, only a starting point for further debate. While acknowledging the difficult road ahead, he praised the committee for making so much progress. “Look where you are right now? We are so close,” he said.  But, McWater added, there’s great urgency to act on SPURA while Michael Bloomberg is still mayor.  And he said CB3 still must convince the administration it can overcome decades of mistrust and antagonism over SPURA. “The city is reticent to believe we can agree. They may not be convinced at the highest levels. We need to give them a sign that we want to move forward,” he said.

David Quart of the Economic Development Corp. agreed with this assessment and explained why the road ahead is so uncertain.  “Given the current state of affairs in the city, I can’t assure you that, if you pass this plan, you’re golden.” The next steps, he indicated (preparing an Environmental Impact Statement, doing urban design work), would require a big investment of resources by the city.

McWater said he hoped the committee could vote on a final proposal at its December meeting and send it along to the full board. The guidelines would then be forwarded to the city for review.  Even if the mayor’s office and other departments sign off, Quart suggested, there’s a long road ahead and many more opportunities for the community board to weigh in on specifics.

Last night it was unclear how and when the community board would give members of the general public opportunities to review the final proposal. They declined to release the document to non-committee members. Pressed on the issue, CB3 Chair Dominic Pisciotta promised a power point presentation (but not the full document) would be made available in the next several days.

He and McWater indicated they were concerned the full draft would be “misinterpreted.” One panel member, Harvey Epstein, said he would not vote for any proposal which is not made public in advance. Pisciotta made it clear any final proposal would be widely disseminated. In an email to The Lo-Down this afternoon, Pisciotta said he still hopes for a December vote, although it could get pushed to January.