Two Bridges Mega-Project Moves Forward, Even If Department of City Planning Won’t Admit It (Updated)

247 Cherry St. (right) alongside Extell's One Manhattan Square. Rendering by SHoP Architects.

247 Cherry St. (right) alongside Extell’s One Manhattan Square. Rendering by SHoP Architects.

A little over a week ago the city rejected a request from City Council member Margaret Chin for a public land use review (ULURP) in the Two Bridges area. Now community members are figuring out their next steps in trying to shape the future of a neighborhood that will see an influx of more than 2,000 new apartments over the next several years.

As we first reported August 12, City Planning Director Carl Weisbrod penned a letter to Chin and other elected officials, saying that the developers of three proposed mega-towers “have agreed to a coordinated review.” He also said the city would require the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the projects.

We’ve been taking a look at how the process is likely to work when summer turns into fall.

According to Community Board 3, representatives from the Department of City Planning will appear before a land use committee in September to explain how the environmental review will be conducted. There will presumably be at least two opportunities for members of the public to speak out about the impact of the new towers on the community (public transit, roads, schools, etc.) An agency spokesperson told us last week, “the EIS process includes multiple points of engagement for the public to weigh in on the projects and their impacts on the neighborhood.”

One huge project is already underway in the Two Bridges area: Extell Development's 80-story tower on the former Pathmark site.

One huge project is already underway in the Two Bridges area: Extell Development’s 80-story tower on the former Pathmark site.

Council member Chin has said she’s disappointed there will be no full-scale land use review.  Chin added, however, that her office remains committed to making “sure the community’s voices are heard.” But without the ULURP, which would have required City Council approval, local activists fear they will have little leverage. The de Blasio administration is compelled to listen during public hearings and to respond directly to all public comments but will be under no obligation to act on any community concerns raised during the hearings.

At next month’s community board meeting, locals will be looking for city officials to clarify conflicting statements they have made about one of the three projects.

JDS Development Group plans a 77-story rental tower at 247 Cherry St., on a parcel controlled by Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Settlement Housing Fund. JDS and the two not-for-profit groups are being sued by another firm, Little Cherry LLC, for breach of contract. Little Cherry claims that the organizations reneged on an earlier sales agreement. On July 6, a spokesperson at the Department of City Planning said the applications for 247 Cherry St. would be placed on hold until the legal dispute is resolved.

Weisbrod’s announcement this month that all of the proposed projects will be considered together seemed to suggest that the legal cases (which are far from settled) are no longer a consideration for his agency. Yet when we contacted the press office at the Department of City Planning last week, a spokesperson said there is no update regarding DCP’s stance on the lawsuits.

The agency was unresponsive when we asked for further details; multiple inquiries from The Lo-Down went unanswered. So there’s no official word from the agency, no explicit acknowledgement of any change in the status of the applications. However, a source familiar with the project confirmed to us that the JDS application is, in fact, moving forward with City Planning. The real issue was, apparently, not the lawsuits, but the fact that two applications had been received for the same parcel. There was confusion about which one should be considered. It remains to be seen if and when city officials will publicly disclose their decision to engage with the developer about its plans.

[UPDATE 8/25/2016: Read an update regarding the status of the 247 Cherry St. application here.]

Representatives of JDS Group will brief Community Board 3 regarding their proposal at a meeting scheduled for Sept. 26 (it’s a separate session from the regularly scheduled land use committee meeting). Little Cherry has also made a request to present its competing plan in September, but nothing’s been firmed up as of yet. Meanwhile, Michael Kramer, director of real estate for Little Cherry, acknowledged that his firm’s hopes for blocking the JDS deal are not centered within any city agency, but in a court of law. Little Cherry is convinced it will prevail once the two legal cases run their course.

In addition to the 247 Cherry St. project, two other development teams have plans in the works for the waterfront. At 260 South St., L+M Development and the CIM Group hope to build a 66-story complex totaling more than one-million square feet. The Starrett Corp. envisions a 60-story building at 271-283 South St. Those firms may end up briefing the community board sometime before the year is over.