City officials got an earful from members of Community Board 3 and local residents last night concerning their plans for “Seaport City,” Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to create a new neighborhood on the East River.
The NYC Economic Development Corp. is in the process of selecting a planning consultant to conduct a feasibility study. Last night’s briefing was led by Dan Zarrilli, the city’s director of resiliency. Seaport City is one of 250 recommendations detailed this past June by Bloomberg for protecting New York from future Hurricane Sandy-like storms. Using Battery Park City as a guide, planners are looking at whether a new land mass could be built as a way of protecting the densely populated communities along the East River.
But CB3 members expressed a huge amount of skepticism because city officials have signaled (although they denied this last night) that a complex levee system could potentially be paid for with large-scale market rate commercial and residential development along the waterfront. Zarrili said, repeatedly, that the plans are very preliminary and there are no pre-conceived notions about the project. But local activists in attendance, who have been fending off luxury development schemes on the East River for decades, were not buying it.
Zarrilli highlighted projections indicating that the city, already vulnerable to catastrophic flooding (as Sandy so vividly showed), will be in increasingly greater peril. He noted that last year’s hurricane cost the city $19 billion in damage and lost productivity, and warned that number could climb to $90 billion by the year 2050. Once a planning firm is selected, their mission will be to study an area from Pier 35, near Clinton Street, all the way to the Battery Maritime Building. He said the initial report could be ready by the end of the year, before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office.
David McWater, the co-chair of CB3’s land use committee, was not impressed by what he heard. “You come here and it’s the fear” of another storm, he said. “The only way to deal with (rising sea waters) is to build luxury housing” and to say to “the little people who got hurt in (Hurricane Sandy), the billionaire (developers) are coming in. It sticks in my craw.” Damaris Reyes, executive director of Good Old Lower East Side, a group that has pushed for public access on the East River, agreed wholeheartedly. “You are taking advantage of fear to further the city’s waterfront development agenda.” David Crane, another longtime CB3 member, said, “I don’t like the idea of building a wall around the neighborhood. It sounds like the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. A lot of people could die.”
Gigi Li, CB3’s chairperson, noted that the revenue from Seaport City, if it comes to fruition, would go into a general city fund, and would not directly benefit the Lower East Side and Chinatown. Another speaker, Kerri Culhane of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, expressed shock that the city was just now briefing the community. The request for proposals was released in late July. Community board leaders were briefed a few days before it was publicly disseminated, but there have been no widely publicized public forums.
As the city officials continued to insist that CB3’s alarm about the plan was premature, McWater strongly suggested they knew precisely how the process is going to go. “On December 31, there will be a report. You know exactly what it is going to say.” An official with the Economic Development Corp. countered, “we won’t be deaf to what we heard today.”
Community activists are not going to be waiting to hear from the city. They’re already mobilizing to fight the Seaport City proposal.