Op/Ed: SPURA Plan Reflects True and Unprecedented Community Process
Editor’s note: Last week, we published an op/ed from Jenifer Rajkumar, a district leader and prospective City Council candidate, concerning the Seward Park development project. Today, here’s a related opinion piece from Dominic Berg, who was the chairperson of Community Board 3 from July 2008 – June 2012. He continues to serve as a member of CB3 and is a member of the Seward Park RFP Task Force. This Op/Ed is not an official statement of Community Board 3:
As the former Chairperson of Community Board 3 who oversaw a community consensus on this project, I would like to provide recent historical context about the progress taken thus far on the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA).
The deal that allowed this development to move forward after over 40 years of inaction was a result of true common sense community consensus on what is best for the Lower East Side. I often said that we knew we had a deal because everyone gave up something and all felt a little out of their comfort zone. Every vote taken by the full Community Board on this project was unanimous.
This is a massive victory for our community and one that has been accomplished due to the dedication and hard work of Lower East Side residents, Community Board 3, and our elected officials: Council Member Margaret Chin, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Senator Daniel Squadron, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. There were open public meetings nearly every month for over three years that involved all of these stakeholders and many residents. The Lo-Down should earn a Pulitzer for its coverage of the process, so if anyone missed any of it, do a search on the tag “spura.”
Some have asked: what value does this development add to our community? The development of SPURA will add more than 500 units of permanently affordable housing which will serve local residents, former site tenants, seniors, low-, moderate-, and middle-income working families. SPURA will add good paying, permanent jobs for area residents who have an income that is below 200 percent of the poverty level. Within one year of being hired, a minimum of 30 percent of these employees will be promoted to a higher paying position. In addition, developers will be required to utilize minority and women-owned firms (M/WBE) in their redevelopment of the SPURA site.
In addition, the future of the Essex Street Market is protected; the size of commercial storefronts has been limited, and we are a step closer to realizing a public school on the SPURA site, to name a few.
The voice of the Lower East Side has remained strong throughout this process, and will remain so. For the first time ever, CB3 negotiated a prominent seat at the table within what is usually a process reserved only for City agencies. A Seward Park RFP (Request For Proposal) Task Force, made up of a former site tenant, community board members and elected officials, helped craft “community criteria” enshrined in the RFP (pages 19-20) to ensure that the Lower East Side’s concerns are addressed in any development plan. This means making sure that affordable housing is built first; that jobs pay a prevailing wage; and that facilities such as a community center, youth center, or senior center are prioritized. The Task Force will also review and provide feedback on proposals from interested developers. I am proud to say that never before has a development project included such a high level of community involvement and such a robust democratic process.
The development of the SPURA represents the best of our community. This development proves that when local residents, elected officials, and the City work together, projects that are truly responsive to the needs of the community are possible. No one can take this victory away from the Lower East Side community, and to suggest otherwise is to put one’s own agenda ahead of the best interest of this community.