City Planning Commission Approves SPURA Plan

The Seward Park sites south of Delancey Street. Photo by Vivienne Gucwa.

More now on the City Planning Commission’s historic vote this morning in favor of the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Plan.  The decision means there’s only one more major step remaining before the city begins soliciting proposals from private developers for the 1.6 million square foot residential/commercial project at the foot of the Williamsburg bridge.  Sometime this fall, probably, late September or early October, the City Council will be called on to approve the land use plan.

Today’s decison was unanimous.  The commissioners actually voted on 19 separate land use “actions” necessary to move forward with the proposal, which would create 900 apartments (half of them permanently affordable), hundreds-of-thousands of feet of commercial space, community facilities, a small park and a new Essex Street Market. 

Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden, praising city officials for their “diplomacy and tenacity,” said reaching agreement after decades of rancor on the Lower East Side “was not an easy job — it only took 50 years!”  After so many years of “missed opportunities at Seward park I am incredibly happy to be voting on (this plan),” she declared.  Burden called the city’s dealings with Community Board 3 “a terrific collaborative process.” Commissioner Michelle de la Uz also praised the plan and the community-driven process, but she acknowledged that some neighborhood activists did not get everything they wanted, including more affordable housing than the proposal allows.

Several city officials who worked closely with CB3, including David Quart of the Economic Development Corp. and Edith Hsu-Chen of City Planning, were in the audience during the vote; they gathered outside following the proceedings to celebrate an accomplishment that seemed unlikely just a few years ago.

In the next few weeks, the City Council will schedule a public hearing.  City Council member Margaret Chin, who represents the Lower East Side, has vowed to fight for several additions to the plan, which were embedded in CB3’s guidelines for Seward Park but rejected by the city. These include a prohibition on big box stores, the creation of a new public school, compensation for Essex Market vendors,  and guarantees concerning local hiring and a “living wage.”   This week, Chin’s communications director, Kelly Magee, told us the Seward Park ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) would go before the Council’s land use and zoning committees. No hearing date has been set, she said.

Once the City Council votes and the mayor signs off on the plan, the city will issue “requests for proposals.”  The community board will have a role in helping to select developers for the redevelopment of the largest city-owned parcel below 96th Street.