Seward Park Co-op Residents Vote on $53.7 Million Air Rights Deal Tuesday

Developers plan to build on either side of the former Bialystoker Nursing Home building on East Broadway.

Developers plan to build on either side of the former Bialystoker Nursing Home building on East Broadway.

After months of contentious debate, residents of the Seward Park Cooperative vote tomorrow (Tuesday) on a proposal to sell some of their air rights to developers of the former Bialystoker Nursing Home for $53.7 million.

As the New York Times noted in a story posted Sunday, the offer from the Ascend Group/Optimum Asset Management, “has disrupted the leafy quiet of the four-building brick complex, pitting neighbor against neighbor.”

If the proposal is approved by at least two-thirds of those participating, the developers say they will build a 210-unit luxury condo complex on three lots at 222-234 East Broadway. In addition to renovating the landmarked Bialystoker building, they plan towers (33 and 22 stories) on two adjacent lots. They have vowed to develop the sites whether or not the co-op sells 162,000 square feet in air rights. The difference between the two plans is, however, considerable (78,000 square feet “as of right” vs. 226,000 square feet with the air rights).

Diagrams show what the developers could build "as of right" and with Seward Park's air rights.

Diagrams show what the developers could build “as of right” and with Seward Park’s air rights.

On Friday, the development team sweetened the offer, which had previously been set at $52.7 million. They put another $1 million on the table to help the co-op renovate its lobbies. They even wined and dined residents last night with a party in the co-op’s community room, with food and an open bar.

The board of directors has unanimously endorsed the air rights sale, arguing that the big pay day ($39 million after taxes) will allow the co-op to stabilize its finances. The board would allocate $12 million for mandatory maintenance projects, including the replacement of crumbling balconies and all 25 elevators in the complex. Another $22 million would be devoted to reducing the co-op’s debt and replenishing reserves and emergency funds. $5 million has been designated to give residents a “maintenance holiday,” (a gesture that opponents call a bribe). The board has warned that steep maintenance increases and assessments will be required if the referendum is voted down. Some residents can afford to pay higher fees. Others, including hundreds of fixed-income seniors, would be imperiled, supporters of the air rights sale say.

Some of the most vocal opponents live in apartments facing East Broadway, which would lose their views, as well as light and air if the new buildings go up. A number of detractors argue that the board is making the co-op’s financial situation seem more dire than it really is. Others speculate that the developers won’t build if the air rights deal is rejected, or that they’ll come back with an offer that’s even more lucrative. There’s obviously widespread fatigue with over-development on the Lower East Side. Some opponents of the sale believe this referendum offers a rare chance to tell a developer, “No more.”

There are more than 1,600 apartments at Seward Park, spread across four buildings. The referendum will only pass if two-thirds of those voting, cast “yes” ballots.

Over the weekend, The Lo-Down received unsolicited op-ed submissions from residents on both sides of the issue. You can read them here and here.  You can read our previous coverage of this issue here.

Editor’s note: The publishers of The Lo-Down are residents of the Seward Park Cooperative. It is our policy to disclose any potential conflicts that arise in our reporting.