Residents Win a Round in Court Over Two Bridges Mega-Towers

Rendering shows Two Bridges waterfront with several proposed large-scale buildings. Credit: SHoP Architects.

Rendering shows Two Bridges waterfront with several proposed large-scale buildings. Credit: SHoP Architects.

A big victory in State Supreme Court yesterday for local residents fighting to block four mega-towers in the Two Bridges area. The judge extended a temporary restraining order, while giving the development teams until Aug. 2 to show why the massive projects should not be subject to rigorous public review.

Here’s a roundup of news coverage from yesterday’s high profile hearing.

Gothamist reported:

Judge Arthur Engoron said he would render his final decision in early August, but in statements that drew applause from the roughly 50 community activists that had stayed until the end, he said there was merit in the opposition’s arguments. “These are huge towers,” he said. “I’ve lived in the city my whole life. You can’t just do this because the zoning allows it. I just can’t believe this is the case.”

In December, the City Planning Commission approved the plans in spite of strong community opposition. The projects would add 2,775 mostly market rate rental units along the historically low-income waterfront. 694 apartments (25%) would be designated as permanently affordable. The developers are JDS Development Group, a partnership between L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group and The Starrett Group. The towers will range in height from 63-80 stories.

Three separate lawsuits were filed to stop the towers. In one suit, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin, along with local residents, argue that the city must put the projects through a full-scale public review (ULURP). The city has contended that the huge buildings only require “minor modifications” of the Large Scale Residential Development Plan (LSRD) in the Two Bridges neighborhood.

As City Limits reported, an attorney for the developers argued yesterday that the massive scale of the buildings is irrelevant:

“The size of the buildings do not matter here,” said Janice Mac Avoy, representing the group behind the development project. “Although the height is significant, it does not matter because that is what the zoning allowed here in the LSRD.” Justice Engoron responded, “But the size here is an 800-pound gorilla,” he said. The quiet room let out a ripple of snickers.

The lead in the New York Post also highlighted the judge’s misgivings about the planning commission’s handling of development project:

A Manhattan judge slammed city lawyers Wednesday after a marathon of hearings about controversial plans to add luxury high-rise apartment buildings to the Two Bridges housing development downtown. Justice Arthur Engoron said city lawyers seem to think, “we can do pretty much anything we want because zoning allows it.

In a statement released yesterday, the borough president said, “This is as far from a ‘minor modification’ as you can get–these are four towers ranging from 63 to about 80 stories high in a neighborhood that’s low-rise. While I’m disappointed that we had to go to court over this, I am confident that we will prevail and these projects will be required to undergo public review.”

Council member Chin added,”Today we are calling for a complete stop to all development of this site. To build a fairer City, the voices of those New Yorkers who are most impacted by displacement and gentrification should not be ignored.”

Trever Holland of the neighborhood group, Tuff-LES said, “We ask the courts today to save our Two Bridges neighborhood from this monstrous “major modification” which includes a proposal for a 1,000ft super-tall atop an existing 10 story senior building.”

Vanessa Thill, with the group Art Against Displacement, said, “Today shows the strength of community in the face of wealthy developers and a corrupt Mayor. Years of community outreach, education, and organizing, and months of research and coalition building went into preparation for this momentous day. The Lower East Side Organized Neighbors (one of the groups that filed suit) succeeded in securing an injunction against the Two Bridges megatowers, and presenting a robust and compelling argument in court.

Paula Segal, attorney with the Equitable Neighborhoods Practice at the Community Development Project, summed up what happened in court,  saying, “We won the Two Bridges hearing, today. The judge accepted our arguments and extended the restraining order until written decision in August. He said on the record that he believes the process was fatally flawed.”

The developers are continuing to tout various neighborhood improvements they have committed to make in exchange for building the towers. These include $40 million in upgrades to the East Broadway subway station and improvements in local parks.

In a statement they contended, “These projects were approved after extensive community consultation, public review and environmental analysis, and are in compliance with the underlying zoning that’s been in place for more than 30 years. The judge’s decision to extend the TRO for two months does not impact the projects because construction was not planned to start imminently.”

A city spokesperson told City Limits, “We are disappointed with this ruling. We respectfully disagree with the court’s preliminary findings. The approvals made by the city were appropriate and we will continue to defend against the claims challenging these important projects,”