Groups Studying How to Care For Huge New East River Park

Rendering shows new bridge over Delancey Street to East River Park.

Rendering shows new bridge over Delancey Street to East River Park.

Sometime in the fall, community meetings for the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project are expected to resume. The city initially planned to kick off the public land use review for a massive East River flood protection initiative during the summer, but it was delayed. Meanwhile, Rebuild by Design, the organization that created the original resiliency concept plan, is “seeking a partner to explore and ultimately recommend potential park stewardship models.”

In a Request for Proposals (RFP) that surfaced today, Rebuild by Design, the consortium founded after Hurricane Sandy, and the local group Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) put out a call for a planning consultant to conduct a study. Here’s how they explain the scope of the study:

The maintenance of parks is a challenge in New York City, just as in many other cities around the world. To address shortages in funding and opportunities for enhancements, New York City has a history of employing the “Conservancy” model, which typically takes the form of a non-profit institution that contracts with the NYC Parks Department to operate certain parks and open spaces… While effective in maintaining quality open space, these models, often in practice and as perceived by local communities, have removed accountability and responsibilities from government, promoting exclusivity in uses, and containing amenities that may lack affordability to adjacent communities. In places like the Lower East Side where community stewardship of neighborhood gardens is strong, East River Park has the potential to become a framework where local groups, schools, sports leagues, and tenant associations could be enabled to care for and maintain the future of East River Park… Rebuild By Design is requesting proposals to explore and ultimately recommend potential stewardship models with funding mechanisms that could enhance the long-term operating budget while addressing issues of equity. While this research is focused on what specific structure may enhance ESCR in NYC, the findings could be used to inform future Rebuild by Design work in local, national, or international contexts.

The study budget is $8,000, fairly small in the context of the $760 million East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. The work is supposed to be completed by November.

The project covers an area from Montgomery Street to East 25th Street. Designers envision a series of berms and flood walls, along with new recreational areas, to protect the Lower East Side from future storms on the scale of Hurricane Sandy. Groundbreaking must occur by next spring, or the city risks losing some of the federal funding allocated for the project. The initiative is already many months behind schedule.

There’s a separate flood resiliency project below Montgomery Street. It just so happens there’s a public meeting for the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project tonight. More details about that here.


More Delays For East River Flood Barrier, as Federal Deadlines Loom

Rendering shows proposed flood wall on FDR Drive at 10th Street.

Rendering shows proposed flood wall on FDR Drive at 10th Street.

There are more complications in the $760 million plan for a flood barrier along the East River. Key meetings during the summer have been delayed, pushing back the start of the city’s mandatory land use process for the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.

The plan for a 2.4 mile section of the waterfront above Montgomery Street envisions a series of berms and flood walls to protect the Lower East Side from future storms on the scale of Hurricane Sandy. The city is at least a year-and-a-half behind schedule. In community board meetings held earlier in the spring, city officials made it clear they were racing to meet federal spending deadlines. In spite of local objections, they were pushing to kick off the official environmental review and ULURP (Uniform Land Use Procedure) during the summer months.

But in the past week, those summer meetings were canceled. Michael Shaikh, deputy director of external affairs in the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency, told The Lo-Down this week that the new delays are due to, “unexpected complications with the design of the flood wall.” He said designers needed the summer to resolve the issues. Asked to elaborate, Shaikh simply said the complications had to do with the flood wall’s impact on FDR Drive.

The city anticipates rescheduling the meetings for the fall. Four years ago, the city received $335 million in funding for East River storm protection from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. The money must be spent by September of 2022. Planners have hoped to break ground by the spring of next year. But that can’t happen until ULURP is completed. Hearings by the community board, borough president and City Planning Commission are all required before the City Council gives its approval. Asked about the latest delay, Shaikh said, “We are on track to meet our federal funding deadlines.”

Community Board 3 complained about the prospect of summer meetings (the board doesn’t normally meet in July and August). In March, CB3 raised concerns about the flood barrier, which includes what some fear will be a forbidding eight-foot wall along the FDR. A community planning process several years ago led to a vision for the waterfront that would provide flood protection, but also improve access to East River Park and create new recreational areas along the water.

City Races For Approval of Lower East Side Storm Barrier By End of 2018

Rendering shows new bridge over Delancey Street to East River Park.

Rendering shows new bridge over Delancey Street to East River Park.

If you haven’t been following the planning for a new flood barrier along the East River, now is a good time to start paying attention.  The city is racing to meet federal deadlines, and pushing local stakeholders to weigh in before the end of of the year. This means your last opportunities are coming up in the months ahead to influence what will be a sweeping transformation of the waterfront on the Lower East Side.

It has been almost four years since the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), awarded New York City $335 million to create a series of berms and flood walls along a 2.4 mile stretch of the East River from Montgomery Street to East 25th Street. The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project is one segment of a larger concept called “The Big U,” meant to protect much of Manhattan from future storms on the scale of Hurricane Sandy. Over the years, the city has supplemented the federal grant with substantial capital funding, bringing the total budget for the East River project to $760 million. [There’s a separately funded resiliency program in-the-works below Montgomery Street.]

At a meeting of Community Board 3’s parks committee March 15, planners presented the latest designs and outlined an aggressive timeline. The project is at least a year-and-a-half behind schedule, and the clock is ticking. Federal funds must be spent by September of 2022. City officials want the local boards to schedule land use votes during the summer, with City Council approval by the end of this year. This accelerated schedule would clear the way for groundbreaking in the spring of 2019.

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday), reps from the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency will appear before the full Lower East Side community board. CB3 is expected to vote for a resolution expressing support for the overall concept, but spelling out concerns about the tight timeline and the quality of the design for New York’s first resilient park. The city is looking for both CB3 and CB6 (which covers the area above 14th Street) to chime in before an appearance before the Public Design Commission later this spring.

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The evolving design calls for raising playing fields in East River Park above the flood plain and for creating new passive recreational areas, including a great lawn, nature exploration area and water play area near Delancey Street. A new playground and comfort station would be built at East 10th Street. New bridges are planned at Delancey Street and 10th Street, offering more seamless routes into the park, and other park entrances are to be reconfigured and made more inviting.

In spots where there’s minimal room between the East River and FDR Drive, a flood wall with swinging or sliding gates would offer the main form of protection. At South Street and Montgomery Street, for example, the Gouverneur Gardens residential complex would be surrounded by an eight foot protective wall. A gate similar to the one you see in the first image below would be closed before big storms.  A path would lead from Montgomery Street, alongside a new park at Pier 42 (the city is in the middle of tearing down a shed at Pier 42, the first step in building that park).

During the presentation, designers said that a flood wall will run to 14th Street, alongside the FDR. Due to Department of Transportation safety rules, they’re having to add a fence on top of the flood wall (there will be a minimum height of 8 feet). Also, the areas immediately around the flood gates must be largely free of vegetation in order to meet FEMA certification guidelines.

A lot of time has been spent studying the trees in East River Park. Many of them, planted when the park opened in 1939, are near the end of their lives. Molly Bourne, a principal at the landscape architecture firm Mathews Nielsen, noted that construction will disrupt trees and other vegetation throughout the park. Around 1200 trees will be uprooted. Some will be replanted in groves, while new trees meant to withstand flooding and climate change are to be added.

The East River bandshell will remain, along with the park’s well-used playing fields. There will be 12 tennis courts, the same number currently in East River Park, although they will be regulation size (an upgrade). In an earlier version of the plan, a storm water holding tank was going to be embedded beneath the tennis courts. That’s now been abandoned in favor of installing new sewer lines that will carry storm water and wastewater to the Manhattan Pump Station on East 13th Street, before being pumped to the wastewater treatment plant in Brooklyn.

The new foot bridge at Delancey Street will be located just to the south of the Williamsburg Bridge.  A 12-foot-wide ramp is envisioned with a gradual incline, which leads to a newly designed elevated park entrance. A sweeping staircase will provide a more direct route over the FDR.

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There were some new wrinkles in the latest renderings, but most of what the city planners went over the other night was very familiar to anyone who’s been following the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. For at least the past three years, designers have been briefing members of Community Boards 3 and 6, meeting with a waterfront task force and holding larger public engagement sessions.

Even before the city’s official planning began, community members worked closely with the architectural teams that submitted “The Big U” concept to HUD in 2014. Back then, the vision called for creating a “bridging berm” along the East River, providing protection from rising sea levels but also offering, as the Rebuild by Design website explains, “pleasant, accessible routes into the park, with many  unprogrammed spots for resting, socializing, and enjoying views of the park and river.”

No one expected the city to adopt every aspect of the concept plan, but community members involved since the beginning do have certain expectations. At the top of the list — making sure the project doesn’t create a new and imposing barrier, walling off the community from the waterfront.

Here's a rendering of the original "bridging berm" concept by the Bjarke Ingels Group.

Here’s a rendering of the original “bridging berm” concept by the Bjarke Ingels Group.

Damaris Reyes, executive director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), has been a strong advocate for an equitable, community-oriented resiliency plan. She heads a group called LES Ready, which was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. At the committee meeting, Reyes sounded the alarm about the current design, saying the idea behind the berm, “was not to build a wall to keep us from the water. It was to create multi-purpose space that connected us more to the water. It feels like, in the end, we are going to wind up with a space that will do the actual opposite.”

“We won all this money,” she continued, “to do something that has not been done before. The world is looking at us… I would hate that people come to the first resilient park in New York City and say, ‘This really ain’t no big deal.’ I really encourage the teams to do everything possible to make this park is as beautiful as possible.”

Trever Holland, chair of the parks committee, voiced similar concerns, saying he’s worried that the flood wall facing the city will be foreboding, as he put it, giving East River Park the feel of a penitentiary. He urged designers to consider innovative design ideas, including solar power, and to make sure, in the interest of public safety, that there’s enough lighting around the wall.

There were other questions during the meeting. A local resident asked whether there’s any risk that the federal funding, in the Trump era, could be rescinded. Jordan Salinger, a senior policy advisor in the city’s resiliency office, responded, “I don’t think (the federal government) necessarily will be funding future projects, but this was an award the city received and (the mayor’s office is) working with HUD to assure the steady stream of these dollars. There has been no sign that the money is going to get clawed back.”

CB3’s district manager, Susan Stetzer, was perplexed by the schedule of meetings coming up in the summer and fall. The city is currently planning to release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in July. It’s also planning to certify the project into ULURP in July, triggering hearings at the community boards and by the borough president and City Planning Commission. Normally, ULURP (the city’s public land use review) would follow release of the EIS, giving stakeholders time to digest potential impacts of the proposed project.

Newly elected City Councilmember Carlina Rivera will have some influence over the plan, since the land use application must be approved by the City Council. A representative from her office was in attendance at the parks committee meeting. On Friday, members of Rivera’s team told us they have been hearing a lot of feedback about the East River resiliency project from constituents. In addition to all of the concerns voiced at the community board meeting, residents have expressed worries about existing amenities in East River Park. One priority is making sure that the community doesn’t lose any of the heavily used barbecue/picnic areas throughout the park. Another is managing the construction, expected to take five years, in such a way that at least some parts of the park remain open while the project is being built.

Rendering of flood wall on northern end of East River Park.

Rendering of flood wall on northern end of East River Park.

Following the parks committee meeting, we posed some followup questions to the mayor’s office. Michael Shaikh, deputy director of external affairs in the Office of Recovery & Resiliency, responded.

On concerns about the timing of upcoming public meetings, he said the city is working with community boards to make sure there’s adequate time to review and comment on the Environmental Impact Statement and ULURP. City officials have conceded that community board hearings might slip to September, since the boards don’t typically meet in the summer.

This past October, just before the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, WNYC reported, “the (East River resiliency) plan is still just lines on paper. The groundbreaking has been delayed by at least 18 months, and already some of the amenities promised to the community have been removed to cut costs.” Those delays, city officials have suggested, were inevitable given the complexity of the project, which requires coordination with many city, state and federal agencies. Shaikh told us the city is confident it can start construction next year, saying, “The project is on track and we’re on schedule to meet our federal spending deadlines.”

As for scaling back parts of the project, he acknowledged that the original concept for The Big U envisioned several new bridges leading to East River Park, but added, “the funding we received from HUD was not enough to build bridges where none had existed.” He noted that the city publicly announced the elimination of the new bridges from the plan in 2015.

City officials have heard the local concerns about walling off the neighborhood from East River Park. Shaikh pointed out that the designs won’t be finalized for several months and added, “we’re confident that the project will integrate flood protection into the community fabric and greatly improve access to the waterfront,” and that it will ultimately, “not only make the community safer, but also be a much better public amenity than what exists now.”

If you would like to read Community Board 3’s draft resolution on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, it’s available here. CB3 meets Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 20, 166 Essex St.


East Side Coastal Resiliency Project by The Lo-Down on Scribd

Learn More About the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Plan on Tuesday, December 19


The third public workshop for the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency (LMCR) Project to design and implement a flood protection project for Lower Manhattan takes place on Tuesday, December 19, 1017.

This workshop will focus on the Two Bridges neighborhood from Montgomery Street tot he Brooklyn Bridge. Once complete, it will reduce flood risk from coastal storm surge and sea rise, while aiming to provide improved open space and waterfront access.

To learn more about the LMCR Project, visit:

*This is a paid advertisement.

How Will Resiliency Work Impact Access to East River Park? Elected Officials Ask For Answers

East River Park tennis courts. Photos by Sarah Sluis.

East River Park tennis courts. Photos by Sarah Sluis.

Local elected officials are expressing concerns about the impact on the local community when construction begins on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.

Now scheduled to start late next year, the multi-million dollar, federally funded initiative will create a series of berms and flood walls, as well as new recreational spaces. While most everyone agrees that flood protection is a high priority, there are worries about how construction, expected to last at least five years, will be handled.

The first phase of the project, from 25rd Street to Montgomery Street, will involve shutting down sections of East River Park. State Sen. Daniel Squadron and other local office holders recently sent a letter to the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency and the city’s Parks Department. It called on their offices to, “develop construction
plans jointly with the community to minimize the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods and on East River Park.”

“While we support (the resiliency) work,” the elected officials said, “we continue to hear from constituents concerned about the potential effects of project construction.”

Specifically, they mentioned the tennis courts in East River Park. Plans are being developed to install underground storm drainage devices below the courts. City Council member Rosie Mendez allocated $500,000 to renovate the courts, but diverted those funds elsewhere when the resiliency plans began to take shape.

Mendez also allocated more than $460,000 for a wetlands project in East River Park being implemented by the LES Ecology Center.  The letter stated, “It’s important to know how (the resiliency project) will impact the proposed wetlands, and whether the existing funds should be reallocated to another project.”

The elected officials concluded, “We request that you develop and present plans to the community that will
mitigate the impact of ESCR’s construction on the surrounding neighborhoods and East River
Park’s many facilities, to the extent possible.”


Residents Still Have Concerns About East River Floodwall

Renderings from: NYC Mayors' Office; presentation prepared for Gourverneur Gardens, October 2015.

Renderings from: NYC Mayors’ Office; presentation prepared for Gourverneur Gardens, October 2015.

The week started off with big news on the East River waterfront. We learned yesterday that the federal government is awarding another $170 million for flood protection in the low-lying area from East 23rd Street down to Battery Park. It seems like a good time to revisit one aspect of the project that’s stirred some controversy: a flood wall alongside the Gouverneur Gardens housing complex.

The overall plan calls for a series of berms and bridges in East River Park. But in the area just above Montgomery Street, alongside the long-delayed Pier 42 Park, there’s not as much room between the river and FDR Drive. For this reason, designers are envisioning a network of floodwalls and deployable gates to keep surging waters from overwhelming the adjoining neighborhood.

As we reported back in October, some local residents have concerns about being walled off from the new recreational area. Designers and city officials met with people at Gouverneur Gardens this past fall to discuss the plan and hear feedback. You can see renderings below from their presentation:

initial design pier 42 area

montgomery street flood gate

montgomery street flood protection rendering

flood protection along pier 42

As you can see from the renderings, the wall would range in height from between 3.5 feet to 7 feet. An environmental review of the entire project area is now underway.

In a December letter to Daniel Zarrilli, the mayor’s director of recovery and resiliency, local activists spelled out some of their misgivings about the plan. The letter was signed by Trever Holland on behalf of the LES Power Partnership:

A large stock of low-income and affordable housing is located below 14th Street… It still isn’t clear what materials the walls will be composed of. We continue to have concerns about safety. A 5 foot high wall may not seem obstructive until you actually stand in its’ shadow. The walls may become graffiti magnets and eyesores. Serious consideration needs to be given to this area to determine whether the walls could have a dual purpose such as planters, tree pits, additional seating or long term art installations. As this is also an aging community, mobility issues will also need to be examined. Therefore we ask that you present the current plans to our community with scaled models that depict the buildings and the realistic appearance of floodwalls based on possible materials to be used. We encourage you to continue to communicate with the residents of Gouverneur Gardens to ensure that resiliency efforts near them are effective and respectful… We understand the multiple challenges you face in designing and implementing a resiliency project of this magnitude and hope you are able to understand our issue of equitable distribution.

A spokesperson from the mayor’s office told us a few months ago that planners have no desire to “wall off” the park from the local community. The master plan, the spokesperson explained, is a work in progress that is being constantly refined. The first phase of the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project is expected to begin construction in mid-2017. As we reported yesterday, construction of the Pier 42 park has now been delayed until early 2017.

Click here for the full Gouverneur Gardens presentation.

Federal Government Awards $176 Million For Flood Protection Below Montgomery Street

Rendering: Lower Manhattan flood protection.

Rendering: Lower Manhattan flood protection.

Lower Manhattan will be receiving another big grant from the federal government to protect neighborhoods along the waterfront from future storms and rising water levels.

In the New York Times, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer reports that the city is the beneficiary of $176 million through a nationwide competition being run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The funds will be used to create a flood protection system from Montgomery Street to the northern tip of Battery Park City.

In an earlier competition, the feds awarded New York City $335 million for a network of berms and flood walls from 23rd Street to Montgomery Street. That part of the project is now undergoing environmental review ahead of the anticipated start of construction in mid-2017. The city already allocated $100 million for the resiliency program below Montgomery Street. It had hoped for up to $500 million from Washington in new funding.

Schumer told the Times, “The Lower East Side waterfront is almost a wasteland compared to the West Side waterfront, and this should make them much more equal.”

UPDATE 11:28 a.m. Reaction is coming in from local elected officials. From City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer:

As authors of a resolution in support of the City’s application for critical federal funding to protect Lower Manhattan from flooding, we are gratified by HUD’s decision to award $176 million for badly needed resiliency measures. It is our hope that this award, together with the $100 million in resiliency funding already committed by the de Blasio Administration, will provide the solid financial backing to begin quickly the work of safeguarding property, vital infrastructure, and most importantly, lives in the path of future storms.

From the better late than never department, the resolution will be voted on by the Council today.  Here’s reaction from State Sen. Daniel Squadron:

Today’s news… is a significant step toward completing comprehensive resiliency measures around Lower Manhattan to the north end of Battery Park City. These funds, together with the nearly $115 million I worked with the city and state to have committed to Lower Manhattan, will allow resiliency efforts to continue south of Montgomery Street, north of which the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project is proceeding. Along with Lower Manhattan colleagues and leaders, I have been pushing to ensure that protection around the entire tip of the island is a top priority. I am pleased that city, state and federal leaders have responded to our push — the city and state committed $14.75 million last March, the city pledged $100 million in last year’s budget, and Senator Schumer advocated forcefully, including with HUD Secretary Castro.

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