CB3 Asked to Weigh Low Line With Seward Park Project

The abandoned trolley station under Delancey Street. All photos taken by the Delancey Underground team, May 2012.

Community Board 3′s land use committee met last night to discuss the Seward Park development project.  As it turns out, there wasn’t much to discuss.  A secret task force has now met twice to help guide the city’s creation of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the large mixed-use project adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge.  Members of the task force were required to sign confidentiality agreements, meaning they can’t talk about any issues covered in their deliberations.   The most interesting topic of conversation last night concerned an adjacent project, the proposed park envisioned in an abandoned trolley station below Delancey Street.

The project, known as “The Low Line,” is not part of the Seward Park RFP.  But during the discussion, Low Line co-founder Dan Barasch was invited to update committee members on his organization’s progress.  In a resolution approved last June, the community board expressed its strong support for the project. 

The resolution read, in part:

Community Board 3 officially supports the Delancey Underground project and its initiative to build a community‐centered “Lowline” public space, and looks forward to working closely with the Underground Development Foundation in ensuring that this new amenity is developed in partnership with and for the benefit of the Lower East Side community.

Since the city is on the verge of issuing its Seward Park RFP, Barasch said it seemed like a good time to return to CB3.  He asked the board to build on its previous support and “consider the Low Line as a community-based organization that could provide new public space administered by a (non-profit) organization we have set up.”

Officials from the NYC Economic Development Corp., in attendance at the meeting, reiterated that the Low Line could not be considered in the Seward Park RFP process because the underground site is controlled by the MTA.  They also noted that the trolley terminal site did not go through the city’s public land use process,  as the nine Seward park development parcels did.

Some members of CB3′s land use committee expressed concerns about deepening the board’s commitment to the Low Line. Damaris Reyes, the executive director of GOLES, said she would be concerned about giving the Low Line group priority over other community based entities that might have ideas for activating the trolley terminal space.

In the past, the MTA has said it would issue its own RFP for the space below Delancey Street after the city completed the Seward Park land use process (that occurred this fall).  The cash-strapped transit agency has indicated it would entertain offers from private developers as well as non-profit organizations. This morning, an MTA spokesman told The Lo-Down, “there is nothing new to report at this time.  No timeline for an RFP yet.”  Last night, Barasch said his group is “focused on how we might work with the MTA” to form a legal agreement for use of the underground space.

In the end, the CB3 panel did not take any action.  Barasch offered to brief community board members on a wide-ranging engineering study the Low Line commissioned earlier this year.

In other news related to the Seward Park project, CB3 Chair Gigi Li announced that one member of the RFP task force, Bob Zuckerman, would be stepping down.  Zuckerman, the executive director of the Lower East Side BID, recused himself since his organization could potentially submit a development proposal for one or more Seward Park parcels. The BID is in the process of setting up a local development corporation.  He will be replaced on the task force by Justin Yu, the head of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.