Here’s what’s coming up at Community Board 3 in the month ahead.
–At CB3’s transportation committee meeting Nov. 13, the city’s Department of Transportation will outline plans for expansion of the Citi Bike network. Several months ago, the mayor’s office announced that about 1200 bikes would be added as part of the L Train shutdown plan. There’s expected to be a concentration of bikes near the Williamsburg Bridge.
–On Nov. 1, the human services committee will hear a plea to stop the displacement of the Community Healthcare Network’s Catherine Abate Center at 150 Essex St. The center has a lease until 2021, but the site is slated to become the last piece of the big Essex Crossing project (luxury condos are planned here).
–On Nov. 8, community groups pushing for a rezoning of the Two Bridges area (under siege from developers with grandiose plans) will update their progress before the land use committee.
–On Nov. 15, the parks/waterfront committee will discuss the community impacts from the city’s decision to take over more of Pier 36 for garbage truck parking.
You can check out full agendas, including meeting locations and times, here.
Delancey Street at Essex Street. File photo.
There’s a lot going on at Community Board 3 this week. Here’s a look ahead:
–This evening (Tuesday) the State Liquor Authority Committee will be reviewing an application from the team behind Nine Orchard, the hotel opening in the historic Jarmulowsky Bank Building next year. Neighborhood activists have been mobilizing against the hotel, which has filed for multiple liquor permits. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and will be held at Perseverance House Community Room, 535 East 5th St.
–Also tonight, the transportation committee will be discussing the 3-year closure of Suffolk Street at Delancey Street to accommodate construction at Essex Crossing. There will also be more discussion about the looming L Train shutdown, the city’s decision to turn portions of Pier 36 and East 10th Street into a parking facility for garbage trucks and an update on efforts to alleviate Grand/Clinton Street traffic gridlock. This meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m., Seward Park Extension, 56 Essex St.
–Tomorrow night (Wednesday), there’s a meeting of the Baruch Bath House Task Force. The city is seeking proposals from developers to reactivate (and probably tear down the historic building). The task force meets at the Baruch, 605 Baruch Drive, 6:30 p.m.
–On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. the Parks Committee meets to go over plans from the city for more reconstruction at East River Park and to discuss a plan from GOLES/Rebuild by Design for a park stewardship proposal along the East River. The committee meets at BRC Senior Center, 30 Delancey St.
See the full agendas here.
Rendering of Pier 42 park.
Here’s a look at some of the topics Community Board 3 will be discussing in July. CB3 just posted the agendas for this month’s committee meetings.
On Thursday, July 12, the city’s Economic Development Corp. will present the latest plans for a new recreational area in-the-works at Pier 42. At a meeting of the parks committee, they’ll show off the schematic designs for a playground that will be part of the large park near Montgomery Street.
On Tuesday, July 17 the land use committee will review a revised application from the developers of the hotel at the Jarmulowsky Bank Building. According to the agenda, they’re “request(ing) a special permit to modify height and setback requirements to construct a roof deck, chair lift, and stairs on the roof of a 13-story Landmarks Preservation Commission-designated building.”
On Tuesday, July 10, the transportation committee will continue its deliberations regarding next year’s L Train shutdown.
On Wednesday, July 9, the Economic Development Committee will resume its discussion about whether to support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which is finally supposed to get a hearing at the City Council.
The State Liquor Authority Committee will meet on July 9 and July 16 to review liquor license applications (more on this later).
You can see the full agendas, including meeting times and locations here.
Soho House rendering.
We may be heading into the summer season, but June still looks to be a busy month for Community Board 3. Here’s a look ahead.
On Monday, June 11, the State Liquor Authority (SLA) Committee will consider a proposal for multiple restaurants/bars within The Allen, a hotel at 140 Allen St. You know the spot. For years, it was a stalled construction site until Morris Moinain picked up the distressed property at auction in 2016. According to documents filed with CB3, the 17-story hotel is slated to open in early 2019. There will be 98 guest rooms and eating/drinking establishments on the ground floor, second floor and rooftop. Click here if you’d like to look at the full application.
On Monday, June 18 the SLA Committee will meet again to review several interesting proposals. Ludlow House/Soho House will be outlining its plan to demolish the neighboring club, Libation on Ludlow Street, replacing it with an outdoor garden/restaurant with a retractable roof. Here’s the full application from the Soho House team.
On Thursday, June 28 there will be a long-awaited appearance at the transportation committee by DOT traffic engineers. They are expected to finally detail their plans for fixing the Grand/Clinton Street gridlock dilemma. Local residents, elected officials and CB3 leaders have been clamoring for a solution.
You can see all of Community Board 3’s June meeting agendas here.
Church of the Nativity. Photo by Beyond My Ken – Wikimedia Commons.
It’s a busy week for Community Board 3. Here are some of the upcoming meetings worth checking out.
–Tonight the land use committee will hear a proposal from the Cooper Square Committee Land Trust to acquire the former Church of the Nativity site at 44 Second Avenue. The Archdiocese of New York is selling the property. The Cooper Square Committee wants to redevelop the site with 116 units of housing for seniors, families and the disabled. There would also be a community center named for Dorothy Day. EV Grieve has more background on the proposal here. The land use panel meets this evening at 6:30, at University Settlement, 184 Eldridge St.
–Also tonight, CB3’s State Liquor Authority Committee will meet to go over liquor license applications. Club Cumming on East Sixth Street is in hot water for allowing live music without the proper permit. Alan Cumming & friends will go before the panel to try to rectify the situation. Cumming has been rallying his fans to show their support tonight. Also the team behind Le French Diner will pitch a new small plates concept at 43 Clinton St. (that’s currently the home of the Brazilian spot Galeria).
–Tomorrow night (Tuesday), CB3’s transportation & public safety committee will take up a couple of noteworthy items. There will be a discussion about the proposed expansion of the Manhattan Detention Complex in Chinatown (read about that issue here). Committee members will also be discussing a Nike 5K run happening on Earth Day. For the second time this spring, the city failed to provide the community board with any notice about a large race coming through the neighborhood. Some board members aren’t very happy about that.
For meeting details and agendas, click here.
Renderings: New East River waterfront with proposed towers.
It’s a busy month ahead at Community Board 3. Here’s a look at some of the meetings you might want to check out in March:
–On March 14 (Wednesday), the land use committee will revisit efforts to curtail three mega-towers in the Two Bridges area. There will be an update on a zoning text amendment that, if enacted, would force a full land use review of the projects. The application was submitted by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin in January. Separately, there will be an update on a community-led effort for a rezoning in the Two Bridges area.
–On March 15 (Thursday), the parks committee will hear from the Parks Department about a, “Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for the reuse of the Baruch Bathhouse site.” The community has been pleading for years for the rehabilitation of this building, so we’ll be watching this one carefully. Also the Economic Development Corp. will update plans for the Corlears Hook ferry landing. Community members have expressed concern about crowd control in the area. And the Parks Department will present designs for the new Corlears Hook dog run.
–On March 13 (Tuesday), the transportation committee will continue a discussion about contingency plans for the L Train shutdown. There will also be a presentation from organizers of the March 18th NYC Half Marathon (community members aren’t very happy about the lack of communication about the event, which is expected to bring more than 22,000 runners through the neighborhood). There will also be a discussion about traffic gridlock around the Essex Crossing development sites.
–On March 12 (Monday) the State Liquor Authority committee will examine applications from the CitizenM Hotel on the Bowery and the Holiday Inn on Delancey Street.
You can see the full agendas here.
Community Board 3’s January 2018 meeting.
Here’s a reminder. You can now watch Community Board 3’s monthly meetings from the comfort of your living room. No, it’s not the Winter Olympics, but there’s occasionally a dramatic outburst!
The meeting takes place tomorrow evening (2/27) at 6:30. If you’re interested in checking out the live feed or watching later, here’s the YouTube link.
We’re expecting a lively discussion regarding the Union Square Tech Hub. The land use and small committees conditionally approved a ULURP for the proposal earlier this month, but preservation activists are calling for stronger linkage between the proposed workforce training center/incubator and a rezoning in the immediate area (read more about the issue here).
The board is also expected to approve a resolution regarding the state attorney general’s recent settlement agreement with Rivington House’s former owners.
If you would like to attend the meeting in person, it will be held at P.S. 20, 166 Essex St.
200 Allen St./Google Image.
The State Liquor Authority rejected an application today for a big new venue that had been in-the-works at 200 Allen St. In an unusual move, two elected officials — State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and City Council member Margaret Chin — both appeared in person to testify against the applicant.
The project, Dos Cientos, was the latest venture by real estate developer/nightlife operator Michael Shah (he’s behind Sons of Essex and Rochelle’s). It was meant to be a bi-level Mexican restaurant/bar for 200 patrons. The space, located near East Houston St., has been vacant since the demise of Preserve 24 in 2014.
Community Board 3 opposed the application in a May 2017 resolution. Kavanagh, Chin, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou backed it up with a letter to the liquor authority. Here’s part of the letter:
As detailed in the Community Board resolution, the applicants have a long history as bad actors in the communities where they operate. Community Board 3 has voiced their concern about Victor Jung. who the Board believes will have a lead role in the operations of this venue and who, in 2008, was convicted of a felony associated with his business operations, as outline in the May 2017 resolution. In addition, the resolution recalls that in 2014 the SLA found the applicants in violation for “improper conduct” and use of an “unauthorized trade name” in relation to another LLC known as 133 Essex Restaurant. In 2015, Manhattan Community Board 2 strongly called for the renewal of the applicants’ full on-premises liquor license to be denied for operating outside the Board’s stipulations.
Kavanagh and Chin, along with a representative from Niou’s office, communicated their concerns in person at a hearing in Manhattan today. It apparently helped sway the SLA, which voted against the application.
SLA.200 Allen Street 1-9-18 by The Lo-Down on Scribd
Workers continue to dismantle unstable portions of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on Norfolk Street.
Community Board 3 is out with its January 2018 meeting agendas. Here’s a look at some of the issues that various committees will be discussing in the new year.
On Wednesday, Jan. 10, the land use committee will be briefed on the continuing demolition of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, the Norfolk Street synagogue that was devastated by an arson fire this past May. One of the towers has already been toppled. Work crews are now going to work on the second tower. We’ll presumably be hearing more next months about plans for a new development project on a parcel behind the synagogue wreckage. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has instructed the property owner to save as much of the historic shul as possible.
On Thursday, Jan. 4, the human services/education committee will discuss ongoing efforts to build a school at Essex Crossing. As we reported in November, State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou is trying to revive a campaign to fund construction of the school, which would be located on Suffolk Street.
On Tuesday, January 9 the State Liquor Authority Committee will review an application for two large restaurants with the new Ace Hotel at 223-225 Bowery. High profile chef Nick Morgenstern is set to run the ground floor and rooftop establishments.
You can see full meeting details here.
Coming up next week: an update on the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project.
For your planning calendars, it’s a heavy week ahead for Community Board 3. Here are some of the committee meetings scheduled Dec. 11-15:
Monday, Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m. – Arts & Cultural Affairs Subcommittee meets to discuss, among other topics, a town hall meeting happening in January.
Monday, Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m. – State Liquor Authority Committee meets to review liquor license applications. Brigitte on Canal Street is hoping to add an additional basement bar; Pinks Cantina wants a wine and beer permit at 203 Chrystie St.; Essex Street bar, Old Man Hustle, is going for a full liquor license; a cafe called Bricia is requesting beer & wine at 79 Clinton St.; Eureka Gem has applied for a wine & beer permit at 114 Forsyth St,; and 95 Fusion Tearoom & Kitchen Bar wants wine & beer at 95 Chrystie St.
Tuesday, Dec. 12, 6:45 p.m. – Transportation & Public Safety Committee to discuss noise complaints regarding the U.S. Post Office on East Broadway.
Wednesday, Dec. 13, 6:30 p.m. – Land Use Committee meets to review “Settlement Housing Fund’s proposal to acquire Tanya Towers at 620 E 13th St. from FEGS bankruptcy and conduct affordable housing preservation/rehabilitation with sale of inclusionary zoning rights.” Settlement Housing Fund is, by the way, one of two non-profits which sold a parcel in the Two Bridges area to JDS Development Group for one of those residential mega towers. There will also be an update from the Essex Crossing developers.
Thursday, Dec. 14, 6:30 p.m. – Parks, Recreation & Waterfront Committee will receive an update from city officials on the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project (that’s the flood protection initiative below Montgomery Street). The panel will also hear about a public art project in Sara D. Roosevelt Park, which includes a “freestanding native plant garden sculpture designed to support urban birds and engage community.”
Thursday, Dec. 14, 6:30 p.m. – Public Housing Subcommittee meets to discuss NYCHA’s Section 3/FEMA program.
Visit the community board’s website for more details and meeting locations.
At the next meeting of Community Board 3, coming up Nov. 28, Jamie Rogers will announce he’s stepping down as board chairperson effective Dec. 31.
His decision was prompted by the election this month of his wife. Carlina Rivera, to the City Council. In January, Rivera will be sworn in as Council member in District 2, which overlaps with sections of Community Board 3. Members of the City Council help the borough president appoint community board members. While Rogers is an appointee of Borough President Gale Brewer, not of District 2’s Council member (currently Rosie Mendez), he told us today he wants to avoid any appearance of conflict.
In accordance with CB3’s by-laws, the board’s first vice chair, Alysha Lewis-Coleman, will become chairperson. The second vice chair, David Ford will become first vice chair and an election will be held for Ford’s current position. All executive committee posts will be up for grabs during regularly scheduled elections next spring/summer.
In addition to stepping down as chair, Rogers will end his tenure as a member of Community Board 3 when his current term end in March of next year. Rogers has served on CB3 for six years and was elected as chair in 2016. Alysha Lewis-Coleman is a longtime tenant activist and head of her tenant association at a Section 8 building near Sara D. Roosevelt Park.
Members of Community Board 3, June 2016.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer last week announced this year’s appointees to local community boards. Here are the nine new members of Community Board 3, which covers the Lower East Side, East Village and Chinatown:
–Robert Magliaro: School administrator and co-founder of The Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management. [Brewer]
–Jonathan Chu: Real estate developer, restaurant owner; Chu’s family recently opened Hotel 50 Bowery in Chinatown. He also owns the restaurants Nickel & Diner and Chikarashi. During the past year, Chu has served as a public member of CB3’s liquor licensing committee. [Brewer]
–Mei Lum: Owner of Mott Street’s Wing on Wo & Co, the oldest continuously run business in Chinatown. [Brewer]
–Lee Berman: East River Cooperative Board member, State Committee member. Berman is currently running to unseat the current male district leader in the 65th Assembly District, Part A. [Chin]
–Marnie Ann Joyce: Operations Manager of the Atlantic Theater Company.
–Clint Smeltzer: Project Assistant at the Paratus Group. Smeltzer previously served as a public member of CB3’s liquor licensing committee. [Mendez]
–Ryan Gilliam: Executive/Artistic Director of Downtown Art on East Fourth Street. [Mendez]
–Dean Diongson: Director of Information Technology, Royce & Associates, resident of Grand Street cooperatives. [Mendez]
–Luis Lopez: Former corporate middle manager; retired; resident of East 13th Street. [Mendez]
One member of Community Board 3, Anne Johnson, was not reappointed. She was out of town this past weekend, but we hope to speak with her sometime this week. Borough President Brewer’s press office did not respond to a request for information about Johnson’s status.
In a press release, Brewer indicated there was a 31% increase in applications this year for Manhattan’s 12 boards. Community board members are appointed to staggered two-year terms, with half selected by the Borough President and half nominated by City Council members. Next to the name of each appointee, we have noted whether they were appointed by Brewer, Council member Margaret Chin or Council member Rosie Mendez.
Here’s the complete list of appointees.
One Manhattan Square towers over the Manhattan Bridge. Photo by Joel Raskin.
The future of Chinatown and the Two Bridges area will be back on the agenda when Community Board 3’s land use committee meets tonight.
The panel will be crafting a response to the Draft Scope of Work recently published by the Department of City Planning for the upcoming Two Bridges environmental review. That environmental assessment will study the impact of three large-scale residential towers planned along the East River, from Pike Slip to Clinton Street. A hearing on the draft scope was originally scheduled for the end of the month, but at the request of local elected officials, it will now be held May 25. Local residents have many concerns about the projects, from the potential displacement of low-income tenants, to the loss of light and air, strains on the public transportation system and the impact on crowded public schools and medical facilities.
Two related discussions will take place this evening. The land use committee will be asked to support Extell Development’s application for a tax abatement at One Manhattan Square, the 80-story tower now under construction at 250 South St.. The project includes about 200 units of affordable housing in a separate building. The 421-a application was set in motion before the program expired. While the community board has little influence over the application, committee members are sure to ask the developers pointed questions about the unpopular project. Among them: the status of a long-promised replacement for the Pathmark Grocery store, a casualty of the luxury tower.
The panel tonight will also resume talks about a potential rezoning of Chinatown, a hugely contentious topic. The city previously agreed to entertain a limited rezoning, though some community members have rejected a piecemeal approach.
Finally, the committee will continue a conversation about the fate of 11 affordable condominium units at 242 Broome St., part of the Essex Crossing project. Last month, board members were dismayed to learn that these apartments were not guaranteed permanent affordability. Discussions have been taking place with city officials and the development team about the issue. Tonight, some of the questions they previously asked will be answered.
Tonight’s meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. at University Settlement, 273 Bowery.
255 East Houston St., March 2016.
City Council member Rosie Mendez is encouraging locals to show up next week at a City Council hearing on a proposed zoning change along a two-and-a-half block stretch of East Houston Street. Mendez, the Manhattan Borough President and Community Board 3 are all opposed the change, which is being pushed by property owner Samy Mahfar.
Mahfar is planning a 13-story residential building with ground floor commercial space at 255 East Houston St. (near Suffolk Street). He’s preparing to demolish a building that once housed a low-income daycare center, which was displaced in 2010 after construction on a neighboring lot damaged the property.
A community facility is the only use allowed under current zoning. But Mahfar says attempts to find a tenant have been unsuccessful. So he wants to map a C2-5 commercial overlay in the R8 district (the change would impact parcels he controls, plus 18 other lots on the south side of the street). This alteration would allow a restaurant to occupy the commercial space.
The community board approved a resolution in May opposing the change. It stated that Mahfar has, “a well- documented history of illegal construction and construction harassment” in other buildings throughout the Lower East Side. The board also told the City Planning Commission, “The daycare (center) was forced to be vacated due to the open violations and the applicant’s failure to address them.” Most significantly, CB3 argued that the neighborhood lacks adequate community facilities and has lost a number of daycare and nursing facilities in recent years (Rivington House, for example).
The planning commission, however, approved the application July 13 (see below). Here’s part of the city’s rationale as explained by the planning board:
There is an existing C2-5 commercial overlay on the north side of East Houston Street between First Avenue and Avenue B, and the proposed action will create consistency in the permitted commercial uses along each side of East Houston Street, which includes a wide range commercial uses from retail shopping, grocery stores, and restaurants. Together, these commercial amenities provide much needed services to Lower East Side residents. The Commission believes that the proposed C2-5 commercial overlay on the blocks and lots on the south side of East Houston Street between the east side of Norfolk Street and the centerline of the block between Clinton Street and Attorney Street is in context with the surrounding zoning and reflective of existing uses.
The matter will be taken up by the Council’s zoning and franchises committee next Tuesday morning at 9:30 (in the committee room at City Hall). In a newsletter published yesterday, Mendez’s office wrote, “Council Woman Mendez does not support zoning changes at this time and would like to encourage the Community Board and constituents to testify at the City Council’s hearing on the application.”
During an earlier public hearing, CB3’s chairperson and Mahfar were quizzed by planning commissioners about the application. Mahfar, of course, disagrees with the community board’s assertion that he was responsible for displacing the daycare. You can watch the videotape of the June 8 meeting here. [The East Houston Street discussion begins at approximately 15:45).
Lowline rendering; courtesy of Raad Studio/James Ramsey.
Almost five years after they went public with a headline-grabbing plan to create the world’s first underground park in an abandoned trolley station on the Lower East Side, founders of the Lowline have cleared a major hurdle. As we first reported Wednesday night, city officials have given their conditional approval for the ambitious project.
Representatives of the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) announced the decision at a meeting of Community Board 3. The Lowline responded to a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) put out by the city late last year for the old Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal. No other applications were received. In the next year, the Lowline is required to raise $10 million, submit schematic plans for the 60,000 square foot space and, as a press release put it, “implement a robust community engagement plan.”
In an interview, Lowline Executive Director Dan Barasch said, “It was an extraordinary day for us. It feels wonderful that the city is an enthusiastic supporter of the project. We’ve enjoyed extraordinary support across the community. Now we have a real vote of confidence from the city.”
Alica Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said in a statement, “The Lowline represents an incredible fusion of technology and public space. For eighty years, this underground space has sat idle. Now we’re putting it to use for the people of the Lower East Side and for all New Yorkers to enjoy. We can’t wait to see this experiment unfold.”
Charlie Gans, an executive vice president, took the lead for the EDC at the community board, describing the Lowline as an innovative public gathering and cultural space. “We have decided to conditionally designate the Lowline,” said Gans. Over the next year, he explained, there will be quarterly meetings of a new Community Engagement Committee and 5-10 public design charrettes. The historic trolley space, inactive since 1948, is owned by the City of New York and leased to the MTA. If the Lowline organization meets the agreed upon commitments, Gans said, “the acquisition process” will begin next fall. Shovels could be in the ground by late 2018.
Photo: Courtesy The Lowline
Back in November, members of CB3 complained to the Economic Development Corp. about the lack of local consultation before the city officially issued the RFEI. As a result, officials extended the deadline for applications by a month. At the time, they said the community board would not have a role in the selection process, but that there would be many opportunities for feedback from local residents. On Wednesday evening, Gans called the city’s decision just “the first step in a long process” and said, “We’re going to be making sure that the Lowline is engaging with the community in a real way. That’s why this designation is conditional.”
For some community board members, these assurances fell far short of their expectations. Damaris Reyes, executive director of the housing advocacy organization, GOLES, is an outspoken critic of both the city’s handling of the former trolley space as well as of the Lowline proposal itself. Referring to last winter’s discussions between CB3 and the Economic Development Corp., she said Wednesday evening, “I feel so dissatisfied and so disappointed that you did not respect this community board enough to come to us the right way.”
Realistically, she argued, no developer could have pulled together a compelling proposal in the short amount of time between the publication of the RFEI and the submission deadline. “The Lowline,” she said, “has had an unfair advantage of working on this and putting together all the details, the renderings, for several years now.” Reyes added, “I just want to say that I’m really disappointed in the way that EDC is now coming here to tell us there was one applicant, that they’re designating the Lowline as the applicant, not recognizing that perhaps you need to go back to the drawing board and rethink this, because there could be a million and one uses for that space, and that you disregarded what we said, the challenges that we are facing in our community.”
In 2012, Community Board 3 voted 44-0 in support of the Lowline project. Many board members continue to be enthusiastic backers of the underground park vision. Others have their doubts, including MyPhuong Chung, chairperson of the land use committee. While acknowledging the city’s efforts to give applicants an additional month to submit proposals, Chung told city officials, “we didn’t have any input in the decisions that were made,” and noted that gentrification has only become a bigger issue on the Lower East Side since the board endorsed the Lowline four-years ago. Referring to pressures on the community, she said, “these are real issues and, moving forward, we need to address them. Please know that we’re serious about this.”
Other land use committee members questioned whether the Lowline would be a drain on public funds that could be used for other purposes, whether the space would be frequently closed to the public for private events and whether, as public member Harriet Cohen put it, would be overtaken by “hot dog stands and concerts.”
The Lowline Lab in the Essex Street Market. Photo courtesy of The Lowline.
Committee member Dominic Berg was board chairperson when the Lowline went public in 2011. He was supportive of the project then, and continues to believe in it to this day. He suggested that other developers interested in the space could have started to work on ideas years ago. “This is a project that has been very, very well publicized for a long time,” said Berg. “The Lowline has been methodically working with the community… reaching out to all of the community leaders, trying to make sure that they are listening to the community and clearly trying to do what’s right for the community.”
Another longtime supporter, Councilmember Maragret Chin, urged people concerned about the project to become involved. She sponsored the first meeting of the Community Engagement Committee last month, along with Daisy Paez, tenant president of the Grand Street Guild apartments. She called the Lowline’s use of sunlight channeling technology for the park and the organization’s youth programming “amazing.” Chin told board members, “We can all have input… It’s really what we make of it. So I really encourage all of you to work with us and to work with EDC.”
Lowline co-founders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch. File photo.
When it was finally his turn to talk, the Lowline’s Dan Barasch said, “Our approach has always been, very consistently, that we simply want to take the space and turn it into a beautiful public gathering space that is used for the entire community, designed in close partnership with the community.” He encouraged anyone who’s interested to take part in the next community engagement meeting (it’s happening July 25.) Barasch said the committee, “will talk about real things — hours of operation, whether or not there’s retail, whether or not there’s programming happening in the space.” None of these things, he said, are “etched in stone.”
EDC officials have said they felt some urgency to develop the underground space now in order to capitalize on Essex Crossing, the large-scale residential and retail project now under construction in the immediate area. The developers are bullish on the Lowline, which they believe will draw locals and tourists alike to Essex Crossing’s shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. During this week’s meeting, Tim Laughlin of the Lower East Side Partnership said he’s convinced the subterranean park will also provide a boost to the neighborhood’s existing independent businesses. “I have long thought that the Lowline, as a project, would be a driver for small merchants,” said Laughlin. He cited the Lowline Lab, a prototype that opened in the Essex Street Market last October. The weekend-only community space has attracted 70,000 visitors. A food festival held in February drew a large crowd and led to big sales increases for Essex market vendors, Laughlin said.
There were, however, differences of opinion about the Lowline’s potential positive impact on local businesses. Cathy Dang, executive director of the advocacy organization, CAAAV, said she watched a longtime diner on Hester Street struggle after the opening of an art gallery. While the owner was, at first, optimistic about the arrival of a new clientele, he now believes the changes in the area have actually cost him business. Dang said she’s concerned the Lowline will have a similar impact. Laughlin countered that Essex Crossing and the Lowline together will, “drive foot traffic” and “support cultural institutions, support small businesses — both ones that have been here for multiple generations and ones that are new.”
At one point Wednesday night, Damaris Reyes asked Barasch whether his organization had released a community impact study conducted by the Hester Street Collaborative for the Lowline in 2015. The exchange offered a glimpse of the contentious history between certain community activists and the Lowline team over the last few years. During the meeting, Barasch acknowledged that the study had not been published. Reyes contended that opinions of Lowline detractors, such as herself, were initially discounted during the research phase of the project. Barasch said this assertion is untrue.
[This past March, The Lo-Down interviewed Barasch, Reyes, Hester Street Collaborative’s executive director and others about the research study. The initiative, paid for by the J.M. Kaplan Fund, was envisioned as a collaboration with GOLES, CAAAV and the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. These groups initially agreed to participate in surveying their constituencies. Leaders of all three organizations told us they ultimately decided against taking part due to insufficient funding for robust outreach efforts. Members of the groups did participate in interviews conducted as part of Hester Street Collaborative’s survey. We’ll have more about this community engagement exercise in a future story.]
In the next several months, members of Community Board 3 will be seeking assurances from the Lowline team and from the city that the underground space will, in fact, operate for the benefit of the local community. City officials acknowledged that the former trolley space will eventually go through the city’s land use approval process (ULURP). Hearings before the community board and City Planning Commission will be required, the Borough president will weigh in and the City Council must vote on the final land disposition.