Now is Your Chance to Sound Off on Those Proposed Mega-Towers Along the East River

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.

If you have an opinion about more gigantic towers along the waterfront on the Lower East Side, this coming Tuesday evening, Aug. 14, is your chance to speak out.

Community Board 3 is hosting a public hearing on the Two Bridges Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). It’s an official part of the land use review process for three mega-projects developers want to build on a three-block stretch between Clinton Street and Rutgers Street. Four new towers would range in height from 62 to 80 stories and would add more than 2,700 apartments to the Two Bridges neighborhood.

The Draft EIS examines impacts of the new developments on local roads, schools, parks, transit, affordable housing, among other neighborhood facilities. After CB3 submits its recommendations, there will be an October 17 hearing before the City Planning Commission.

Tuesday’s meeting takes place at M.S. 131, 100 Hester St. at 6:30 p.m. Members of the public will each be allowed to speak for 2 minutes.

You can red the Draft EIS here. More documents on the projects available on CB3’s website.

City Begins Review of Brewer/Chin Proposal to Require ULURP in Two Bridges Area

Elected officials with residents and advocates in the Two Bridges neighborhood; June 2018.

Elected officials with residents and advocates in the Two Bridges neighborhood; June 2018.

Local elected officials this week filed an application for a zoning text amendment and an Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) with the city that could potentially put the brakes on three mega-projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood.

The documents were submitted to the Department of City Planning on Wednesday by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin. The text amendment would require a special permit for modifications of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Residential Development Plan.

The developers – JDS Development Group, a partnership between L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group and the Starrett Group – envision four towers reaching as high as 80 stories and adding 2,775 apartments to the area. The city rejected a request from Council member Chin to subject the massive projects to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which would have required City Council approval.  DCP ruled that the buildings amounted to “minor modification” of the large-scale plan. The City Planning Commission will unilaterally rule whether the projects will move forward; elected officials have no official way of influencing the decision.

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.

If special permits are required, the city would have no choice but to order a ULURP. That process would mean more robust community engagement, and would give Chin some leverage to negotiate. She could push, for example, to reduce the size of the towers or to add more affordable housing, in exchange for her support in the Council. Brewer and Chin first notified the city that they’d be submitting a text amendment last October. It’s taken time to actually file the documents because the city required the elected officials to complete an environmental review.  That project was undertaken by the City Council’s land use team.

Time is of the essence. The City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Oct. 17 on the developers’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Brewer and Chin hope the commission will essentially hit the “reset” button on the public review process. Community Board 3 will hold a hearing on the Brewer/Chin proposal in September.

A spokesperson with the Department of City Planning tells The Lo-Down both documents have been received, and that a review has begun. A referral into public review will begin, we’re told, when the application and environmental review documents have been deemed complete by the agency.

Meanwhile, the current public review process is moving forward. CB3 will hold a public hearing on the Draft EIS Tuesday, Aug. 14, 6:30 p.m. at M.S. 131, 100 Hester St.

 

Two Bridges Neighbors Tell Mega-Tower Developers: “You’re Offering Us Crumbs”

Developers of mega-projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood addressed locals July 23. That's Michael Stern, head of JDS, with the microphone.

Developers of mega-projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood addressed locals July 23. That’s Michael Stern, head of JDS, with the microphone.

About a year-and-a-half ago, residents of the Two Bridges neighborhood were promised they would have a meaningful role in the environmental review for three proposed mega-projects along the waterfront. At the first public engagement meeting, held in December of 2016, they were more than a little skeptical (See this: “Residents Doubt Their Concerns Will Be Heard”). Now the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is complete. At a meeting of Community Board 3 held July 23, residents’ worst fears were realized, as the developers outlined the findings and proposed mitigations.

At the meeting of CB3’s land use committee, the developers presented a synopsis of the 800 page document and talked about possible neighborhood improvements, including a new elevator at the East Broadway Subway Station and the renovation of three local parks. Community board members and community residents were less than impressed, telling the developers they were offering “crumbs” in exchange for reduced light, increased traffic and overcrowded schools.

The projects would add 2,775 mostly market rate rental units to the historically low-income Two Bridges area. 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. Their proposed towers would range in height from 63-80 stories.

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 public hearing is scheduled before the City Planning Commission Oct. 17. But first, Community Board 3 will hold a hearing to gather local comments. It’s scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 14, 6:30 p.m. at M.S. 131, 100 Hester St. Anyone wishing to speak has two minutes to offer testimony about the impact of the projects on local schools, transportation, streets, affordable housing, neighborhood character, etc.

The developers were represented at the July meeting by attorney David Karnovsky, who just happens to be former general counsel of the Department of City Planning. He was backed up by a sizable team from AKRF, the influential consulting firm that prepared the environmental review for the three development teams.

Even though the Draft EIS was paid for and overseen by the developers, Karnovsky stated, “It’s a city document, not a developer document,” adding, that the environmental impact statement was “reviewed by the city, vetted by the city.” It’s a highly technical process based on the City Environmental Quality Review Manual, which lays out very high thresholds for mitigating impacts in areas such as public schools and roadways.

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Throughout the meeting, numerous community members expressed frustration that, in their view, the Draft EIS fails to account for the true impacts of the mega-towers on the surrounding area. Testimony by Melanie Wang from the local advocacy organization CAAAV was particularly emotional and pointed.

In a brief section (1 1/2 pages long) on “indirect residential displacement,” Wang noted, the Draft EIS concluded that the influx of 2,000 market rate apartments would have no “significant adverse environmental impacts” on the large amount of rent regulated housing in the neighborhood. The study authors asserted that these affordable units are protected from “market influences” through rent stabilization and other regulatory programs.

At CAAAV, said Wang, she “works with rent regulated tenants every day who are being harassed out of their homes.” Wang added, “I think every resident of this neighborhood knows” that the addition of pricey rentals in shiny new towers will imperil the Lower East Side’s dwindling stock of affordable housing.

During her remarks, Wang read from an article in Luxury Listings NYC, which profiled One Manhattan Square, Extell’s 80-story condo tower on the former Cherry Street Pathmark site. In the story, a real estate broker who sells a lot of high-end condos on the Lower East Side, Ariel Tirosh, said all of the new projects would raise the profile of the gritty area. He speculated that, “eventually, if the developers are careful, (Two Bridges) will become a neighborhood.”

This mentality, explained Wang, appears to have permeated the real estate industry. Speaking directly to the developers sitting in the first row, she said, “I’m going to tell you and everyone else in this room is here to tell you that this is already a neighborhood. It’s been a neighborhood for a long time.” Even though they’re bringing in thousands of market rate apartments to a working class, immigrant neighborhood, Wang asserted that the existing community will “remain and persist.” Referring to the dramatic changes the towers would bring, she concluded, “It is outrageous to me that this DEIS ignores that change, that potential impact.”

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It goes without saying that many Two Bridges residents will not be content with a new swing set at their local park or a new stairwell leading to the F Train. One tenant leader, Marc Richardson, said, “I haven’t talked to anyone in the community who isn’t outright opposed to the developments, or wouldn’t want to see them significantly reduced.” Another tenant leader, Trever Holland, referred to Extell’s monstrous tower, saying, “I want anyone to raise their hand if they think that 80-story building that sits next to Manhattan Bridge is appropriate from any angle in the city.”

Local activists and elected officials are fighting the projects in a couple of different ways. First, City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are trying to push through a zoning text amendment to require a ULURP in the Two Bridges area. The full-scale land use review would give the City Council some leverage, since ULURP requires Council approval. Second, local groups are advocating for a neighborhood rezoning, including height caps and mandatory levels of affordable housing.

During the recent meeting, Julian Morales of the neighborhood group GOLES pointed out that people at a public scoping hearing last year asked to have the rezoning option studied in the environmental review. “That’s a true alternative, a reasonable alternative to have considered,” he argued. Karnovsky responded by saying that the rezoning proposal wasn’t studied because it didn’t meet the developers’ objectives. According to the Draft EIS, those objectives include: 

…creating up to 2,775 new residential units… of which 25 percent or up to 694 residential units would be designated as permanently affordable, including approximately 200 new units of low-income senior housing, advancing a City-wide initiative to build and preserve 200,000 affordable units over 10 years in order to support New Yorkers with a range of incomes; provide additional resiliency measures at each site; achieve high quality urban design, architecture, community facility space, and open space elements; enhance the surrounding streetscape and enliven the pedestrian experience, through the creation of new buildings, landscaping, and open space on the project sites… ;add to the retail mix already located in the Two Bridges neighborhood; and strengthen the City’s tax base by encouraging development and employment opportunities in the area.

Questions were raised about several conclusions in the Draft EIS. A lot of time was spent discussing the section on public schools. If the projects include 200 apartments for seniors, the environmental review found, there would be no need to add elementary school seats. If there’s no new senior housing, the developers say there would be a small impact, creating a deficit of  16 seats in local schools. As a mitigation, they would potentially pay the Department of Education to relocate administrative offices now located in area schools, or “make other space within the district available to the DOE.”  The study authors say they consulted with the School Construction Authority in evaluating the capacity of area school buildings.

CB3 member Lisa Kaplan said, “Already we have janitors’ closets being used as school nurses’ offices or administrative space. These buildings have been crammed to the fullest.” The fact that AKRF consulted with the School Construction Authority, which has a long history of underestimating local population trends, said Kaplan, “gives us very little assurance that anything reasonable would be determined.”

Another community board member, Dominic Berg, questioned how the developers conducted their analysis of available school seats. He asked how many studio, one-bedroom, 2-bedroom (etc.) apartments were planned in the new towers, in an effort to assess how many school-age children might be coming into the community. The developers did not have an answer, explaining that — in keeping with city planning guidelines — they used a standard formula (“We use an average,” said Karnovsky). Their analysis concluded that the projects would generate a need for 309 additional elementary school seats.  “The numbers you are using are basically bunk,” said Berg. “Once again, we are being screwed as a community when it comes to schools.”

Berg pointed out that a site has been reserved for a public school as part of the Essex Crossing project on Grand Street, although the School Construction Authority has declined to allocate funding. Here’s an exchange between Berg and Karnovsky on the topic:

Berg: “Has there been any consideration of the developers offering to fund the construction of the school?” 

Karnovsky: “We’re working with a 16 seat deficit, which is different than (building a new) school.”

Berg: “I take that as a no.”

Karnovsky: “We are committed to funding the gap, of finding ways to do that usefully… We’re not looking at an entirely new school.”

The president of District 1’s Community Education Council (CEC1), Naomi Pena, shared some concerns of her own. Noting that no one from CEC1 had been approached during the first phase of the environmental review, she said, “I think it’s really important that if you want to have a discussion about the impact on our schools you have to talk to the stakeholders who are representing them.” She said the analysis was clearly flawed. “16 seats?,” she asked. “Absolutely asinine. It’s an insult to everyone’s intelligence.”

“I am trying to prevent another Tribeca in this neighborhood,” she explained, in a reference to the school overcrowding crisis that has unfolded in Lower Manhattan during the past decade. 

Another topic that came up is the developers’ plan to add an elevator leading to the subway at East Broadway and Rutgers Street, and new, wider staircases on Madison Street. The developers touted the improvements, estimated to cost at least $40 million, as ADA-accessible.

Linda Jones, a community board member who lives near Seward Park, said,  “I was a little disturbed when I realized that the elevator would be placed at the north end. That’s great for those of us who live in that area, but we should have another one at the south end (closer to the Two Bridges projects). The north end also has an escalator.”

In the environmental review, more than 30 intersections were studied to evaluate additional congestion as a result of the projects. AKRF found that about a half dozen intersections would suffer “significant adverse traffic impacts.” According to the Draft EIS, “the majority of the locations where significant adverse traffic impacts are predicted to occur could be fully mitigated with the implementation of standard traffic mitigation measures (e.g., signal timing changes and lane re-striping)…” The Draft EIS also states, “The significant adverse traffic impacts at the South Street and Montgomery Street intersection and at the Chatham Square and Worth Street/Oliver Street intersection could not be mitigated.”

CB3 member Trever Holland, who lives at South Street and Rutgers Street, asked why no mitigations were planned at that intersection.

Chi Chan, a vice president at AKRF responded, “There were no impacts… There are incremental impacts that determine what the threshold will be (and those thresholds were not reached at this intersection).”

Holland shot back, “Right in the middle of all of the proposed developments — and you don’t think there’s going to be any impact at that intersection? There is a senior building at the corner. A couple of years ago three seniors were killed on South Street.”

The developers are planning to spend $15 million to upgrade three public spaces: Coleman Playground, Captain Jacob Joseph Playground and Little Flower Playground. Holland has questioned how they decided which parks would receive funding. Karnovsky said it was partly based on input from the city’s Parks Department, as well as feedback from local residents during a series of outreach events last year.

A meeting was held in the Two Bridges area in December of 2016.

A meeting was held in the Two Bridges area in December of 2016.

Holland said very few locals actually chimed in on the subject of park improvements, and he called for more robust engagement with the community. He also said there are obviously public spaces along the waterfront in desperate need of financing. Holland specifically mentioned Pier 42; only a small portion of that future recreational space has received funding. Karnovsky responded, “It’s our understanding it is funded for phases that are within our build years.”  Grace Mak, another local resident, said she didn’t understand why the heavily used Cherry Clinton Playground would not be slated for major renovations. 

Other speakers voiced their displeasure with the projects and the proposed mitigations. One woman said, “You want to give us an elevator? Pretty much, you’re giving us crumbs. A crumb, to be exact.  How about offering us a hospital, a new school, an affordable supermarket? As far as I’m concerned, you can keep your crumbs.”

In the past, the developers have defended their projects, and emphasized various efforts to reach out to the local community. During the meeting, Karnovsky repeated some of those same talking points. At one point, he said, “We are not doing the bear minimum.” While indicating he did not wish to disparage Extell’s One Manhattan Square (where there has been virtually no meaningful community outreach), Karnovsky added, “This is not the Extell project.”

He also indicated that the developers are eager to hear additional feedback from CB3. The “DEIS identifies potential (mitigation) measures. Members of this board have a role to play,” he added. “They are not written in stone.”

Developers, Locals Face Off at CB3 Tonight 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.

The battle for Two Bridges returns to Community Board 3 tonight.

Developers of three proposed mega-towers will present the findings of their environmental review and answer questions about proposed mitigations for the large-scale projects.

There was outrage last month when the city released the Two Bridges Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which signaled the start of the public land use review process for the towers. After elected officials and the community board complained about the initial timetable, which would have required CB3 to weigh in on the EIS during the summer, the City Planning Commission relented. A vote is not expected at CB3 until September.

According to the Draft EIS, the projects would add 2,775 mostly market rate rental units to the historically low-income Two Bridges area. 694 apartments (25%) would be designated as permanently affordable, with 200 of those set aside for low-income seniors. The developers are JDS Development Group, a partnership between L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group and The Starrett Group. Their four proposed towers, stretching from Rutgers Street to Clinton Street would range in height between 63-80 stories, dwarfing everything in the neighborhood except for Extell’s massive One Manhattan Square.

The Draft EIS spells out the various impacts the towers are likely to have on local infrastructure, transportation, schools and neighborhood character. Proposed mitigations include a $40 million upgrade of the East Broadway F Train station and improvements to several parks.

Local residents are dead set against the projects, and are pursuing a rezoning of the area to block construction. Local elected officials are pushing for a zoning text amendment to require a full ULURP, a land use review that would require City Council approval.

Tonight’s meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Henry Street Settlement, 301 Henry St.

City Planning Commission Agrees to Delay Two Bridges Environmental Review Hearing

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Here’s an update on what’s happening today as the battle for the Two Bridges neighborhood rages on.

This morning, local elected officials and residents gathered on Rutgers Street to protest the city’s release of the Two Bridges Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) just as summer gets underway. The study must be completed before the city approves three mega-projects. There was concern that Community Board 3 wouldn’t have adequate time to weigh in since it doesn’t meet in August.

The group marched downtown to the City Planning Commission, where the Two Bridges projects were entering public review. At this afternoon’s hearing, the Commission agreed to delay a public hearing on the Draft EIS until Oct. 17, giving CB3 the month of September to review and vote on the document.

Ryan Singer, a City Planning official, said the commission has a packed schedule in September anyway. “That means,” he said, the City Planning Commission would not likely be able to hold a hearing on this item until Oct. 17 at the earliest. This aligns happily with requests from the community, the applicant (the three developers) and the Borough President.”

The developers, through their land use attorney, sent a letter to the City Planning Commission on Friday requesting a delay in the public hearing. One day earlier, City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer complained to City Planning about the tight timeline for community board review.

The proposed towers range in height from 62-80 stories and would add 2,775 new rental apartments in the Two Bridges area. Now that the hearing date has been pushed back, community members can focus on their larger concern: reducing the size or blocking the towers entirely.

In a statement released today, the developers said:

We have been strongly committed to dialogue with local stakeholders and outreach to local residents from the inception of the projects, now almost two years ago.  We will continue to honor that commitment during the Community Board phase of the process and appreciate the concern recently expressed by the Board that it require more time to review the applications. To make that possible, we have requested that City Planning push back its public hearing to a later date, allowing the Board more time to formulate its recommendations to City Planning. We look forward to a productive discussion with the Board and other stakeholders as the applications move forward in public review.

 More to come…

 

As Locals Protest, Developers in Two Bridges Area Float $40 Million Subway Station Upgrade

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.

As we first reported last week, local residents and elected officials will be gathering this morning to protest the city’s handling of the Two Bridges environmental review process. The Department of City Planning dropped the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for three massive residential projects Friday afternoon, setting in motion a 60-day public review period. The release coincides with Community Board 3’s summer break and is being viewed by critics as a ploy to stifle local dissent.

Meanwhile, the private developers angling to transform the Two Bridges neighborhood are touting their proposed “mitigations,” investments meant to address negative impacts on the community. At the top of the list: improvements in the East Broadway Subway Station, including a new entrance at Rutgers and Madison streets, estimated to cost about $40 million. They’re also proposing upgrades to three local parks in the amount of approximately $15 million.

According to the Draft EIS, the projects are largely unchanged from preliminary plans unveiled by the development teams in 2016. JDS Development Group wants to put up an 80-story tower at 247 Cherry St., which would cantilever over an existing low-income senior building. L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group are aiming to construct 62 and 70 story towers in front of the existing Lands End II residential complex at 260 South St. The Starrett Group intends to wedge a 63-story tower on a small lot it owns at 259 Clinton St.

In total, the projects would add 2,775 rental units to the historically low-income Two Bridges area. 694 apartments (25%) would be designated as permanently affordable, with 200 of those set aside for low-income seniors. The rent regulated units would likely be available to households earning 40/60/120% of Area Median Income). There would be about 11,000 square feet of retail in the projects.

Images from Draft EIS.

Images from Draft EIS.

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The developers have asked for “minor modifications” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Development Plan in order to build their towers. At the request of the city, they are conducting a joint environmental review. Local residents, advocacy groups and elected officials are fighting the towers, which would dwarf anything already in the neighborhood (except One Manhattan Square, Extell’s 80-story condo complex).

City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are pushing for a zoning text amendment to force a full land use review (ULURP). The city has rejected their requests for a ULURP, which would give the City Council leverage over the projects, and allow for more robust community engagement.

In a statement following the release of the Draft EIS, the development teams said, “We are excited about the improvements that would be made across the neighborhood as a result of the proposed projects.” In addition to the subway and park upgrades, they highlighted the addition of nearly 700 below-market rentals, which they call, “one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in Manhattan in decades.” The developers also referenced several public information sessions that were held leading up to the environmental review: 

The process to date has provided multiple opportunities for robust community input, including four productive public feedback sessions. And through a cumulative review of all three projects – informed by those public feedback sessions – we will be committing to investments that will have a genuine and lasting impact. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with elected officials and other local stakeholders and to discussing these substantial upgrades as the formal public review process gets underway.

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The developers are proposing the following mitigations, after consultations with city and state agencies:

–Upgrades to the F Train Station at East Broadway, including a new entrance on Madison Street, expansion of staircases from the street to the mezzanine and the mezzanine to the platform. The station would for the first time be made ADA-accessible (Estimated cost: $40 million).

–At Coleman Playground (Monroe/Pike streets), installation of new turf on the playing field, new lighting, new playground equipment and a dog run (Estimated cost: $14 million).

–At Captain Jacob Joseph Playground (Rutgers and Henry streets) and Little Flower Playground (Madison and Rutgers streets), refurbishment of existing play equipment, new seating, plantings and BBQ pits (Estimated cost: $1 million).

In addition to these measures, the developers plan to create a publicly accessible park along Rutgers Slip (between Cherry and South streets). They envision upgrades to public spaces around their projects, and are proposing resiliency upgrades, including raising landscaped areas above the 100-year flood plain.

These proposed investments are unlikely to sway local residents or the elected officials, who are strongly opposed to the projects. Trever Holland, a tenant leader, said, “What we find particularly disturbing is the blatant attempt by the developers to divide our neighborhood with proposed and targeted offerings. Do they really think that BBQ pits will soften the impact of these four mega-towers? What the developers are trying to do is distract us from the actual impacts by offering these so-called ‘open space mitigations’ in front the actual Draft EIS.” He noted that parks on the periphery of the Two Bridges neighborhood have been slated for improvements, while public spaces (Cherry-Clinton Playground, Pier 42, Pier 35) alongside the impacted buildings will apparently receive no additional funding.

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Local residents are likely to balk at a central conclusion in the Draft EIS — that the big projects, “would not result in significant adverse impacts associated with neighborhood character.” It contends that the towers (featuring 2,000 market rate rentals),  “would not result in significant adverse environmental impacts due to indirect residential displacement.” According to the Draft EIS, 88% of rentals in the study area are under, “rent control, rent stabilization, or other government regulations that protect rents from market influences generated by changes in market conditions.”

The JDS project at 247 Cherry St. would lead to the temporary displacement of 19 residents from a low-income senior building at 80 Rutgers Slip. They would be accommodated in apartments elsewhere in the Two Bridges neighborhood. The developers say they plan resiliency upgrades and renovations of the existing building, including a new 4,600 square foot community center.

The Draft EIS covers many other potential impacts. There’s an acknowledgement that local elementary schools and daycare centers could face overcrowding as a result of the projects, although specific mitigations have not been spelled out as of yet. [We’ll get into more details in a future story.]

Today’s rally (11:30 a.m., Rutgers Slip at South Street) is meant to pressure the city into delaying the public review process. Community Board 3, which has only 17 days to prepare for a hearing on the Draft EIS, sent a letter to the Department of City Planning to express alarm over the tight timeline. [Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer wrote a similar letter].

CB3 pointed out that 31% of Two Bridges residents live in poverty and 75% are people of color. The board wrote:

When these projects were first presented in late-2016, and continuing through 2017, there was ongoing community outreach and dialogue with CB 3. For some reason, this stopped completely and there had been no indication that this application was nearing completion… Given the current timeline, sufficient and robust public review of this project—which will alter the character and demographics of the Two Bridges community forever—is not possible, nor respectful to the community. As a majority community of color with a large immigrant population, aging residents, and a growing gap between the highest and lowest income households, Two Bridges deserves better.

Paula Segal, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center, also voiced her concerns with City Planning [Segal has been working with Two Bridges residents]. In a letter to the agency, she wrote:

The Department must give the public and the community board at least until the last week in September—the next opportunity for the full board to meet and vote – to submit its recommendations. Anything less would be simply unfair and would clearly stifle the opportunity for public participation in the review of a project which is already obfuscated by being subject to a process not enshrined in the NYC City Charter or properly promulgated under New York law.

This morning, there’s reaction to the Draft EIS from other groups [ones which have been at odds with Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer over strategy]. The Coalition to Protect Chinatown & the Lower East Side and Lower East Side Organized Neighbors put out a statement that read, in part:

Zoning Resolution Article VII, Chapter 8 clearly outlines that any development to be constructed in this segment of the Two Bridges neighborhood must not be so massive as to negatively impact the neighborhood, and restrict the light and air of the residents. It would also be illegal for these new developments to create a total alteration of neighborhood character and traffic. It is clear that four towers, each over 70 stories tall, would be in direct violation of this Zoning Resolution – and therefore in direct violation of the law. Should the Mayor greenlight the developments, and DCP continue to approve the process allowing for their construction, a lawsuit centering on the violation of this zoning resolution will immediately be triggered to stop the developments in their entirety. While other elected officials host rallies to draw out the timeline of this process, their strategy accepts that the towers will be built.

The Department of City Planning has not responded to our requests for comment. We’ll have more after today’s rally.

UPDATE 4:17 p.m. At today’s meeting, the City Planning Commission agreed to schedule a public hearing on the Draft EIS for Oct. 17, giving Cb3 time to review the document. More info here.

Outrage in Two Bridges: Monday Rally to Protest Looming Mega-Tower Approval (Updated)

Renderings show the East River waterfront with four new large-scale towers.

Rendering show the East River waterfront with four new large-scale towers.

Local activists and elected officials are fuming today over a decision to release the Two Bridges Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) just as Community Board 3 is going on hiatus for the summer.

The City Planning Commission cannot approve three large-scale residential projects along the Lower East Side waterfront until the environmental review is completed. After months of delays, the city plans to certify the Draft EIS at its Monday meeting. CB3 must weigh in on the environmental review within 60 days. Under normal circumstances, CB3’s land use committee would have reviewed the applications in July and then scheduled a vote the following month. But since it doesn’t meet in August, the review and vote will all take place in July, with just over two weeks to get a handle on the Draft EIS.

Local residents, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin have been fighting the proposed towers, which range in height from 62-79 stories.

Chin is organizing a rally on Monday to pressure the Department of City Planning to give the community more time to pour over thousands of pages of documents from the development teams. She’s expected to ask the agency to delay the release of the Draft EIS until September (see more at the end of this article). Here’s a statement Chin provided to us a short time ago:

I am outraged by this attempt to cut the community out of a planning process that will determine the future of the neighborhood that thousands of immigrant and low-income New Yorkers call home. By beginning the review process at the end of June, just as the Community Board prepares to go on summer break, these developers have been caught red-handed in a cynical attempt to sneak in four humongous towers with as little opposition as possible. Too bad these developers don’t know who they are messing with. We are paying attention, and we will never give up the fight to stop these towers so that real community-based planning can begin. That is why I joined the Borough President to file a text amendment which is our best hope of stopping these out-of-scale towers from destroying the Two Bridges that we know and love. Though we may lose the battle on Monday, I am confident that we will win the war to take back our neighborhood from greedy developers who think they can outsmart and outmaneuver this community.”

Rally in Two Bridges area, July of 2017.

Rally in Two Bridges area, July of 2017.

The proposals under review include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 62 and 69 story towers at 260 South St. by L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group; and a 62-story tower at 259 Clinton St. from the Starrett Group. In all of the projects, 75% of the rentals would be market rate, 25% would be designated affordable.

The Department of City Planning determined that the massive proposed towers amounted to a “minor modification” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Residential Plan, meaning the city was authorized to approve the towers unilaterally. In January, Chin and Brewer filed an application for a zoning text amendment to force the projects to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). This would mean more robust roles for the community board and borough president, and would subject the plans to City Council approval.

The city required Chin and Brewer to conduct a separate Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) before advancing the text amendment. That assessment is now taking place, after the City Council allocated funds for the environmental review. Council land use staff members are, however, fighting the clock, since the developers’ proposals are headed for a vote at the City Planning Commission in the fall.

The land use applications from the developers were posted on Community Board 3’s website this week (you can see them here, here and here.) The Draft EIS (which will likely be available sometime tomorrow) must detail impacts on the existing community, including transportation, infrastructure, schools and the neighborhood’s existing low-income housing. It also must spell out “mitigations,” steps that will be taken to address environmental impacts.

Diagram shows Two Bridges Large Scale Development Plan area.

Diagram shows Two Bridges Large Scale Development Plan area.

In a statement, the development teams said today:

The process to date has provided extensive opportunities for robust community input on the three proposed projects, including four productive public feedback sessions, multiple Community Board 3 meetings and a public scoping hearing hosted by the City.  We look forward to continuing that dialogue with the community as the formal review process begins, and are excited about the potential to deliver approximately 700 much-needed units of permanently affordable housing along with significant upgrades to existing buildings, open space, flood resiliency infrastructure and additional benefits for the surrounding neighborhood.

Two Bridges environmental review meeting held in 2016.

Two Bridges environmental review meeting held in 2016.

One of the buildings most impacted by the proposed projects would be Two Bridges Tower at 82 Rutgers Slip. Residents there have already endured construction of Extell’s 80-story One Manhattan Square. Trever Holland, tenant leader at Two Bridges Tower, had this to say about the timing of the Draft EIS:

We are extremely disappointed in the timing of DCP’s decision to release the DEIS for the four proposed massive towers in Two Bridges. Once again, our community will face the burden of trying to digest thousands of pages of technical documents within an abbreviated time frame. How can the city expect for the community to properly respond and engage if they release these critical documents at the beginning of the summer?  The community board only meets once and many families are away. At minimum, we would hope that DCP would extend the review period to allow for proper engagement especially considering the massive impact these proposals would have on our neighborhood.

The rally on Monday will be held at 11:30 a.m. at Rutgers Slip and South Street. Participants will march to 22 Reade St., where the Department of City Planning will hold its review session.

We have asked City Planning for its perspective on the Two Bridges land use process. We will update this story when the agency replies.

UPDATE 5:07 p.m. Today Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer sent an “urgent” letter to Marisa Lago, chair of the City Planning Commission. “Were (the Draft EIS to be released)… next week,” they wrote,”the opportunity for meaningful public review of the applications would be seriously undermined. Such an outcome cannot be allowed to occur.” They asked that the applications be, “referred to the community board at such a time that would allow for the full period of review to which it is entitled.”  On the separate matter of their proposed text amendment, Chin and Brewer told Lago, “It is our expectation that DCP consider this application in a timely manner…”

Chin Letter to DCP: Two Bridges Draft EIS by The Lo-Down on Scribd

Temporary Exhibition Celebrates “Existing Two Bridges Neighborhood”

Photo courtesy of Two Bridges Tower.

Photo courtesy of Two Bridges Tower.

Here’s a little something to brighten up the foreboding fence on Rutgers Slip bordering the apartment complex known as Lands End II. A public art project was recently installed along the one block stretch just above South Street.

This is the work of artists Chet Travieso and Sam Holleran. The temporary exhibit, “We Call This Place Home,” is part of the Department of Transportation’s Art Program. As the signage explains, it’s meant to “celebrate the existing Two Bridges neighborhood.” The different shapes represent actual local residents, affirming the “building blocks of a strong neighborhood.”

This site, of course, is where L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group are hoping to build two enormous residential towers, one measuring 800 feet. It’s one of three controversial projects being proposed in the Two Bridges area. Residents have argued that the new buildings will destroy the character of their community. A draft Environmental Impact Statement was expected from the developers months ago, but it has not yet materialized.

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Local Groups Wait For Developers’ Next Move, as Campaign to Fight Waterfront Towers Inches Forward

Renderings: New East River waterfront with proposed towers.

Renderings: New East River waterfront with proposed towers.

The environmental review for three mega-towers in the Two Bridges area is several months behind schedule, but most community activists aren’t complaining. The delay is giving them more time to mobilize against the controversial projects. That was one of the takeaways from a meeting of Community Board 3 held earlier this week.

JDS Development Group has proposed a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St., next door to Extell Development’s 80-story luxury condo complex. L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group want to put up 62 ad 69 story towers at 260 South St. Meanwhile, the Starrett Group is planning a 62-story building at 259 Clinton St. Taken together, they would add 2,700 rental apartments in the area, 25% designated as affordable. The development teams are conducting a joint study to assess impacts of the huge projects on the Two Bridges neighborhood. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was expected to be submitted to the Department of City Planning by December. But it has not yet been filed.

At CB3’s land use committee meeting on Wednesday evening, a representative from the Department of City Planning (DCP) called the delays fairly routine. Community board member Val Jones wanted to know what is taking the developers so long, and speculated that concerns expressed by residents at a series of public meetings held last year were being disregarded. Bob Tuttle, a city planner, said, “There’s a lot of work that (the developers are) doing right now, and (the Environmental Impact Statement) just isn’t ready.” He noted that all comments from the public must be specifically addressed once the official review process begins. Tuttle said he couldn’t say when the Draft EIS would be finished, but emphasized, “I don’t want you to think the process is broken because they haven’t talked to you.”

Brewer and Chin staged a rally in the Two Bridges neighborhood in July of 2017.

Brewer and Chin staged a rally in the Two Bridges neighborhood in July of 2017.

During the meeting, representatives from the offices of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin updated their efforts to constrain the three projects. In January, they filed an application for a zoning text amendment to force the projects to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The Department of City Planning in 2016 refused to order a ULURP, which would have given the City Council some say over the projects.

Roxanne Early, Chin’s land use and planning director, said conversations are ongoing with DCP staff regarding the text amendment. One question to be resolved: Would a separate environmental review be required? That would be an arduous and lengthy process for the borough president and councilmember to take on.

There was also an update on Tuesday evening regarding a proposed community-led rezoning of the Two Bridges area. In October, Community Board 3 agreed to serve as a co-applicant, along with TUFF-LES (a tenant coalition), Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and CAAAV-Organizing Asian Communities.

The groups have met with representatives of the Department of City Planning about creating a, “Lower East Side/Chinatown Waterfront Special District.” It would include a height limit for new buildings of 350 feet, among other restrictions. While DCP hasn’t indicated one way or the other whether it would support the proposal, City Planning officials did offer some feedback to the local groups. 

One goal of the rezoning would be to require at least 45% affordable housing in new projects, through the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program (MIH). The rezoning envisioned by the local community would only be feasible if the allowable residential floor area is increased, city planners have advised. As a result of this feedback, CB3 is now drafting a letter to DCP that would propose an expansion of residential floor area in Two Bridges, but would retain the 350-foot height cap.

If the rezoning moves forward, it would need to undergo yet another lengthy public review process. The groups are hoping Councilmember Chin and Borough President Brewer sign on as co-applicants. They have expressed general support for the rezoning, but have yet to join forces with the community groups. There was widespread agreement on the land use committee that the delayed environmental review from the development teams is a good thing. It allows both the elected officials and community groups time to advance their own land use proposals.

The environmental review studies 18 categories, including infrastructure, schools, transportation, community facilities and neighborhood character. It also must include “strategies to mitigate” potential impacts of the development projects. The development teams and City Planning officials are going back and forth regarding those mitigations. While the developers have declined to comment, it’s not hard to imagine some of the local improvements they could be called on to fund.

In an interview published a few months ago, Victor Papa of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council speculated about one of the possibilities. His organization, along with Settlement Housing Fund, sold air rights to JDS Development Group for its mega-tower, enraging the local community. In one section of the interview, Papa raved about JDS’s Michael Stern and hinted about potential subway improvements on the Lower east Side:

He’s quiet, unassuming, a wonderful man, understands the plight of low-income communities. Maybe takes advantage of it, it can be seen that way, but also he’s willing to do things here that were never heard of before—the subway system, the F-train stop that he’s willing to have equipped with an elevator or an escalator.

F Train entrance on Henry Street.

F Train entrance on Madison Street.

During last year’s public meetings, community members raised many concerns about the sorry state of the East Broadway subway station. The escalator is frequently out-of-order. The entrances closest to the proposed projects, on Henry Street, aren’t designed to accommodate large crowds. The new developments would add thousands of local residents, overburdening a decaying, outdated station.  Developers have agreed to pay for MTA station improvements in other neighborhoods, so there is a precedent. But upgrading the station would be astronomically expensive and complicated, so any proposal would face a lot of scrutiny from both the public and government agencies.

Through the environmental review process, city officials could mandate certain improvements. Other proposals from the development teams might be designed to woo a skeptical local community and elected officials.

Trever Holland, a tenant leader in the Two Bridges area, told The Lo-Down he is suspicious of enticements from the development teams, in which, “low-income neighborhoods are led to believe that they only way to see any ‘improvements’ in their community is by allowing out-of-scale luxury developers to literally build on top of existing affordable housing.” Holland added, “If the developers are, indeed, listening to the Two Bridges community, they would know that our unanimous voice has clearly stated that the best mitigation is just to leave our community alone. “

Brewer, Chin File Application For Two Bridges Zoning Changes With Department of City Planning

City Council member Chin and Manhattan Borough President Brewer at the Department of City Planning Jan. 17, 2018. Photo included in Brewer/Chin press release.

City Council member Chin and Manhattan Borough President Brewer at the Department of City Planning Jan. 17, 2018. Photo included in Brewer/Chin press release.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin yesterday filed with the Department of City Planning (DCP) a proposed zoning text amendment in the Two Bridges area.

The elected officials advised city officials last fall of their intentions, but the final documents weren’t delivered to City Planning until this week. According to a joint press release, the change in the Two Bridges area is meant to, “protect the area from out-of-scale luxury developments made possible by the abuse of a zoning loophole.”

Three new mega-projects are now under review by DCP. They include JDS Development Group’s 1,000-foot tower at 247 Cherry St.; 62 ad 69 story towers from L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group at 260 South St.; and a 62-story building by the Starrett Group at 259 Clinton St.

In a statement, Brewer said, “This is the real estate business in New York: there’s intense pressure to find and exploit loopholes to build huge ultraluxury buildings… That’s what’s happening in Two Bridges, where massive out-of-scale towers could move forward because of a staff-level determination that they are only a ‘minor modification’ to the neighborhood’s plan. Sometimes you need to clarify rules to make sure they’re enforced, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

Chin added, “Today, I join Manhattan Borough President Brewer to renew our demand that our city provide the Two Bridges community a real opportunity to shape the future of their neighborhood… In order to turn the tide against out-of-control overdevelopment across our city, we need to act decisively and close loopholes that would allow for the construction of out-of-scale luxury towers without a robust and transparent public review. This text amendment marks the latest chapter in our fight to strengthen the community’s voice in the land use process, and preserve the legacy of affordable housing that Two Bridges residents are fighting to protect.”

Rendering shows Extell's 80-story tower in the Two Bridges area, as well as three proposed towers now under review by the City Planning Commission.

Rendering shows Extell’s 80-story tower in the Two Bridges area, as well as three proposed towers now under review by the City Planning Commission.

The Two Bridges large-Scale Residential Plan was enacted in 1972 in a two block area along the East River. The elected officials say the plan was, in effect, a “very specific special permit,” and that the efforts by developers to,”carve pieces out of this comprehensively-planned area” violate the intent of the large-scale plan. Last year, DCP rejected a request from Chin and Brewer to order a full land use review in the area (ULURP), arguing that no new special permit was required to green light the plans. The zoning text amendment would require a full public review, and approval by the City Council.

In December, the City Council approved legislation sponsored by Chin that expedites zoning applications from elected officials. This week’s filing, Chin and Brewer note, “was made under the new law, so (the) application will proceed directly to technical review and then will be referred out by the Department of City Planning for the public review process.”

We have reached out to the development teams and to DCP. This story will be updated if they respond. In the past, the developers have argued that their projects will have a positive impact in the Two Bridges area. They’re setting aside 25% of the rentals (or about 700 units) for below-market housing.

In a separate initiative, community groups are working on a rezoning in the Two Bridges area to prevent out-of-scale development. According to one tenant leader, Trever Holland, one meeting has already been held with DCP staff. Chin and Brewer have expressed general support for a rezoning but have not as of yet signed on as co-sponsors.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the Department of City Planning says the agency will review the application to determine its completeness (a requirement of the City Charter) before it is entered into the public review process.

 

Service is Back on After Water Main Break in Two Bridges Area

Photo by Jung Chin

Photo by Jung Chin.

Service was just restored in the Two Bridges area this morning after yesterday’s water break on Rutgers Slip/South Street. The culprit was apparently last week’s deep freeze followed by relatively warm temperatures during the day yesterday.

Water service was cut off at Two Bridges Tower and a senior housing building on the same block.  We have photos from a few local residents as well as from District Leader Daisy Paez, who was helping distribute water to seniors.

Trever Holland, tenant association president at Two Bridges Tower, tells us this is the sixth or seventh water main break/flooding situation at this location in the past few years. The buildings impacted are right next door to Extell’s One Manhattan Square, the 80-story tower going up on the former Pathmark site.

South Street from Pike Street to Rutgers Street remains closed this morning as crews continue to make repairs.

 

Photo by Jung Chin.

Photo by Jung Chin.

Photo by Jung Chin.

Photo by Jung Chin.

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Photo by Daisy Paez

Photo by Daisy Paez

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City Council Approves Bill to Increase Transparency For Urban Renewal Areas

One Manhattan Square towers over the Two Bridges neighborhood.

One Manhattan Square towers over the Two Bridges neighborhood.

The New York City Council yesterday approved a bill sponsored by local Council member Margaret Chin to require the city to notify communities when urban renewal areas are set to expire.

The legislation was prompted by the development frenzy in the Two Bridges neighborhood, including the construction of Extell’s 80-story One Manhattan Square and three additional mega-towers now in the planning stages. Just last week, another bill sponsored by Chin — aimed at fast tracking certain land use applications — became law.

The Two Bridges Urban Renewal Area expired in 2007, three years before Chin took office. In the recent City Council election, she faced criticism for reacting too slowly to out-of-scale development projects in the neighborhood. Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are trying to push through a zoning text amendment to require a full ULURP for the new towers.

In a statement, Chin said:

The lack of public access to urban renewal plans has left too many communities in the dark about their impact on neighborhood preservation. When these plans expire, it can open the door for enormous development to threaten vulnerable neighborhoods. We see this happening in Two Bridges, where I am actively working with residents to create tools to fight back against out-of-scale luxury development. By requiring public notification for expiring urban renewal areas and a publicly accessible website with information about currently and formerly designated urban renewal areas, this legislation would empower more communities to take action to protect their neighborhoods.

More than 150 urban renewal areas have been established in New York City since 1949. The plans are not available online and cannot be publicly accessed without a special request. At a public hearing this past summer in which the bill was discussed, Chin and her Council colleagues grilled city planning officials about their approval of numerous large-scale luxury projects. They argued that the city’s land use approval process obviously needs to be reformed, since large development plans can be implemented without any real role for communities in the decision-making process.

There are no remaining urban renewal areas on the Lower East Side, so the legislation, if allowed to become law by the mayor, won’t be applicable in this neighborhood.

UPDATE 12/14: In this story, we noted that there are no more active urban renewal areas on the Lower East Side. Paula Segal of the Urban Justice Center yesterday sent us a link to Urban Reviewer, a website she helped develop. According to the site, there is one active URA in this neighborhood. It’s the “Lower East Side I Urban Renewal Area,” which covers a small section of the LES bordering East Houston Street, Delancey Street, Forsyth Street and Allen Street. It was adopted in 1983 and expires in the year 2023.

Two Bridges Primer: “One Person’s Oversized Tower… is Another’s Prized Aerie”

Extell's One Manhattan Square overwhelms the Lower East Side. Here's the view from Straus Square.

Extell’s One Manhattan Square overwhelms the Lower East Side. Here’s the view from Straus Square.

The New York Times’ “Living In…” column this week focuses on the Two Bridges neighborhood, an area that, in the past, “could seem like a land the city forgot.”  Two Bridges has, of course, been discovered, at least by developers, who are ushering in a new era of gentrification.

The article begins with a history lesson on the development of Knickerbocker Village, the historic affordable rental complex. then moves to the present day development frenzy:

If the 20th century was about spreading out — the (Knickerbocker Village) complexes are threaded with gardens, wide walkways, playgrounds and parking lots — the new phase of construction is more vertically focused. First to stretch skyward is One Manhattan Square, whose 823-foot spire, with 815 market-rate condo units, is currently taking shape. At least three projects with similar towers from other developers — all of them a mix of luxury and affordable rental apartments — are planned nearby.

There are passing references to a local campaign to stop, or at least to limit the size of, three new mega-towers currently in the planning stages. And we get to meet one of our future neighbors, who just snapped up one of those 815 condo units at One Manhattan Square:

One person’s oversized tower, of course, is another’s prized aerie, and Dr. Mathew Ulahannan, 65, an internist from New Hartford, in upstate New York, said he chose One Manhattan Square in part for the views. His two-bedroom, two-bath unit in the building, which opens in 2018, cost $2.3 million, said Dr. Ulahannan, who expects to use it as a once-a-month pied-à-terre with his wife, Leena. His daughter, Netha, 32, who is studying to be a doctor in New York, will likely live there full-time, he said. “Change is inevitable, especially in Manhattan,” said Dr. Ulahannan, adding that he is sympathetic about rising living costs. “But there is not a lot of room for everybody that wants to come to New York.”

You can read the full story here.

Legislation Aimed at Fast Tracking Zoning Changes in Two Bridges Area Becomes Law

Brewer and Chin staged a rally in the Two Bridges neighborhood in July.

Brewer and Chin at a rally in the Two Bridges neighborhood in July.

A bill approved by the City Council in October aimed at fast tracking certain land use applications became law this past Friday. The legislation, sponsored by City Council member Margaret Chin, could help stymie three large-scale towers that have been proposed in the Two Bridges area.

The law allows elected officials and city agencies to skip the time-consuming pre-application process. The mayor did not sign the bill, meaning it went into effect without his explicit support. Now Council member Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are moving ahead with their previously announced plan for a zoning text amendment to require a full land use review (ULURP) of the projects in the Two Bridges area. The story was first reported this morning by Politico.

The projects include JDS Development Group’s 1,000-foot tower at 247 Cherry St.; 62 ad 69 story towers from L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group at 260 South St.; and a 62-story building by the Starrett Group at 259 Clinton St. The rental buildings would add about 2,700 apartments to the area — 75% market rate/25% affordable. The City Planning Commission (DCP) is in the midst of an environmental review of the three proposals.

Rendering shows Extell's 80-story tower in the Two Bridges area, as well as three proposed towers now under review by the City Planning Commission.

Rendering shows Extell’s 80-story tower in the Two Bridges area, as well as three proposed towers now under review by the City Planning Commission.

DCP ruled that the new buildings only required a “minor modification” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Development Plan and, therefore, were not subject to a ULURP. If Chin and Brewer’s application for a zoning text amendment is approved, the projects would be forced to undergo a review by Community Board 3, the borough president and the City Council.

During an unrelated event yesterday, Mayor de Blasio was asked about Chin’s bill. “I have not seen the legislation,” said de Blasio, “so this is one I want to be measured about because I just haven’t seen it. I think the current land use process, even though it’s elaborate, has often led to good outcomes and balanced outcomes so I’d be careful about disrupting that, but I’d have to see the legislation to give you a better answer.” A spokesperson for the mayor told Politico that his daily schedule determines whether or not he signs legislation or simply allows bills to become law without his signature. A spokesperson said, “The law doesn’t change anything about the Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure process and it was not clear to the mayor what bill he was being asked about.”

There’s a separate push underway from three community organizations for a rezoning of the Two Bridges area. The groups have met with representatives from DCP and are continuing to work on their application.

 

Community Board 3 is Poised to Join ‘Two Bridges’ Rezoning Campaign

Rendering: New towers proposed on the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering: New towers proposed on the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Community Board 3 is poised to join a local effort to rezone a section of the Two Bridges area, part of a larger campaign to stop three gigantic towers from going up on the waterfront. CB3’s land use committee voted unanimously last night to become a co-applicant of the zoning proposal. The full board is certain to follow the committee’s lead later this month.

The initiative is being led by the Two Bridges resident coalition known as TUFF-LES, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and CAAAV-Organizing Asian Communities. They are working with the Urban Justice Center to move the proposal through the city bureaucracy.

The community board’s support is essential, not just because CB3’s endorsement of the plan will give it credibility with the Department of City Planning. The board’s involvement as a co-applicant also means the city will waive a $500,000 in fees normally required.

At last night’s meeting, City Council member Margaret Chin spoke in favor of the effort.  On Oct. 12, she and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer submitted a request to the city for a zoning text amendment. It would require the developers of the three proposed mega-towers to obtain special permits, which would trigger a full land use review (ULURP) for the sites.

Chin said she’s confident her strategy to “stop these towers from going forward” will succeed, but added, “We need to go further to protect our neighborhood. This is why this community-led effort to rezone the waterfront has my full support and when there is community consensus I am not afraid to take on the administration. So I hope that the proposal discussed today will move forward through the community board, so we can get the protection we need as quickly as possible.”

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In a brief presentation, representatives from the community groups explained what they’re trying to accomplish. Their starting point is the 2014 Chinatown Working Group (CWG) Plan, a community-led initiative that called for rezoning a wide swathe of the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

The local groups are now pulling out a section of the plan, known as Sub-District D, for the potential rezoning. The sub-district covers the waterfront between Catherine Slip all the way up to East 13th St. They’re focused first and foremost on stopping the proposed projects, which include  a 1,008 foot building from JDS Development Group at 247 Cherry St.; 62 and 69 story towers from L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group at 260 South St.; and a 62-story building by the Starrett Group at 259 Clinton St. The sites are located in a C6-4 zoning district, which is reserved high-bulk commercial uses and high density housing.

The CWG Plan imposes a 350-foot height cap (35 stories), up to 55% permanent affordable housing in new developments and requires special permits for big box stores and nightlife establishments.

Chinatown Working Group subdistricts.

Chinatown Working Group subdistricts.

Several members of the land use committee voiced skepticism about some of the details, but everyone agreed on the critical need for new zoning on the waterfront. An influential board member, Lisa Kaplan, noted that she opposed the proposal for Sub-District D a couple of years ago. Last night, however, she said, “I’ve changed my mind. I have real reservations about some of the aspects of this (proposal). I think it’s unrealistic. But I think, at this point, we have to be negotiating (with the city)… The proposal on the floor (from the developers) is so outrageous and so out of scale that we have to sit down and we have to be part of a discussion about reconsidering this area.”

Committee members said they want a plan that has a chance of making through the City Planning Commission. They believe this will mean, among other things, reducing the size of Sub-District D and settling for less affordable housing. The applicants said they understood that not every part of the original CWG Plan, which was finalized three years ago, can be implemented.

The community board is expected to sign on as a co-applicant with the understanding that CB3 representatives will be included in negotiation sessions with city officials. If the proposal moves forward, it would be subject to the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which includes community board hearings, an advisory opinion from the borough president, approval by the City Planning Commission and a vote in the City Council.

Time is of the essence. Neighborhood rezonings take months (sometimes years) to go through ULURP. The City Planning Commission is now evaluating a joint environmental review of the towers and has been expected to vote on the projects before the end of this year. Rezonings can be implemented even after work begins on building foundations, but the applicants know they must move quickly if they’re going to stop the mega-towers.

In the past, city officials have discouraged any rezoning in the Two Bridges area. Now, however, there appears to be at least some willingness to talk about the issue. A spokesperson at the Department of City Planning told The Lo-Down this afternoon, “If CB3 and local groups request an informational meeting regarding a land use application, DCP will be available.”

The development teams declined to comment on the rezoning proposal. They did, however, have this to say about their projects:

From the outset, and after consultation with the City and elected officials, all three development teams have committed to providing 25 percent of the proposed unit count as permanently affordable housing, which would result in the creation of nearly 700 permanently affordable apartments – one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in Manhattan in recent decades. We fully intend to formalize that commitment before the conclusion of the approval process. We appreciate that the current process has provided multiple opportunities for robust community input, including through four productive feedback sessions and ongoing discussions with neighborhood leaders. We will look forward to continuing that dialogue, and to discussing the substantial upgrades proposed for neighborhood flood resiliency, open space and retail opportunities with local stakeholders as the process moves forward.

Trever Holland, a tenant leader in the Two Bridges area, expressed relief that efforts are now underway to protect the neighborhood. Last night, though, he voiced some frustration that it’s taken so long. Holland, a member of Community Board 3, said he’s begged and pleaded for help on more occasions than he can count. Members of other community boards, he said, ask him, “What is your community board doing right now? If there’s something they could do, why aren’t they doing it?” Holland concluded,  “This is an opportunity for our community board to do something.”

MyPhuong Chung, land use committee chair, apparently did not care for Holland’s comments. Several minutes later, she defended her committee’s efforts on behalf of the Two Bridges neighborhood. “It kind of sounds like we’ve just been sitting on our hands this whole time,” said Chung, “and ignoring this — and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Chung added, “I personally played a part in leading this plan (as a representative on the Chinatown Working Group). So I think it’s irresponsible to paint the land use committee as not caring about this issue. We voted twice and got rejected twice from City Planning (regarding subdistrict D). We did that, I think, at great risk to this community board’s credibility. It’s not that we haven’t tried, but we’re willing to work with you going forward, especially since so many things have changed, even in the last two years since we officially took a vote on this area.”

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A huge crowd turned out last night for the zoning presentation. During a public speaking session, a number of people criticized the community groups for moving forward with a single section of the Chinatown Working Group Plan. There was particular concern about the impact of a rezoning on parcels owned by the New York City Housing Authority. [NYCHA is already moving forward with a new mixed-income tower on a parking lot adjacent to the LaGuardia Houses.]

Over the years, some local activists have labeled any effort to prioritize one section of the community over another “racist” and exclusionary. The city rejected the full plan, calling it too expansive. As a result, the CWG Plan has languished. Interestingly, two of the groups behind the new effort to move ahead with Sub-District D, GOLES and CAAAV, are among those organizations that previously opposed a piecemeal approach.

The community board is trying to move forward with rezoning the other sub-districts. CB3 Chair Jamie Rogers told us today, “We hope to engage the Chinatown community through the Chinatown Neighborhood Planning Subcommittee and are working with DCP to secure a facilitator to help with the committee’s work.” Rogers said the board is also committed to “protecting the NYCHA campuses,” using the guidelines set forth in the Chinatown Working Group Plan. A city spokesperson reiterated today that, “DCP is open to discussions with community and elected officials regarding a planning process for the Chinatown core (an area that is undefined but likely to include the historic heart of Chinatown only).”

Rezoning the Waterfront by The Lo-Down on Scribd