Two Bridges Tenants Edge Closer to Lawsuit Over Three Mega-Towers

IMG_6648

“Follow the law.” That was the battle cry from local residents and tenant organizers this morning outside the offices of the Department of City Planning. The agency is now evaluating proposals for three gigantic towers that developers are seeking to build in the Two Bridges area.

On Friday, attorneys for the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center fired off a letter to City Planning Director Marisa Lago. It called on her to overturn a decision from her predecessor, Carl Weisbrod, one year ago that circumvented a full community and City Council review of the Two Bridges mega-towers. If the buildings are approved as part of a “deficient process,” the letter warned, our clients (local tenants and two not-for-profit groups), “will exercise their right to seek judicial review.”

A joint environmental review is now underway for the towers, which include a 77-story building from JDS Development Group 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 building sites are all be located in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area. Last summer, city officials rejected a request from City Council member Margaret Chin for a full land use review (ULURP) in the Two Bridges neighborhood.

The attorneys, represented today by Paula Segal, allege that the decision from the agency reflected a faulty and illegal interpretation of the city’s zoning resolution. They say that no new development can occur in the LSRD without new special permits, and no permits may be issued until the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (UPURP) is completed. The department, the attorneys argued, used an irrelevant section of the zoning resolution in finding that the new projects only amounted to a minor modification of the LSRD. [Read the full letter at the end of this story.]

Today’s event was led by Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and the CAAAV, organizations working with local residents. The Urban Justice Center is representing the two not-for-profit groups, TUFF-LES (a coalition formed by tenant associations in the Two Bridges area) and the Lands End 1 Tenant Association. They were joined by representatives of Council member Chin and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez. At a rally held last month, Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer first threatened a lawsuit if the city refused to reconsider the ULURP request.

“The DCP is trying to push this project through using a process that circumvents the law and democratic procedure,” said GOLES organizer Jessie Ngok. “Community members have a right to weigh in on the impact to their neighborhood. DCP should not silence them.”

Chin, Brewer, Velasquez and Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou sent a separate letter to City Planning today. “Time and again,” they wrote, “we have looked to the Department of City Planning to provide the proper pathways for approval in this process, and to ensure that a thorough and transparent public review would occur.” They added, “We believe there are strong legal arguments against directing the developers to submit ‘minor modifications,’ and enthusiastically support the efforts of our constituents for a full review of these proposed changes to the LSRD…”

In the past, City Planning officials have insisted that, “the modifications sought for the Two Bridges sites do not trigger a ULURP” and that, “there are no grounds under which a ULURP could legally be required.” They have argued that the environmental review offers local residents ample opportunity to raise concerns about the new projects.

IMG_6625

Earlier today, City Council candidate Christopher Marte appeared with community members in the Two Bridges area. He is one of three challengers trying to unseat Margaret Chin in the Sept. 12 Democratic Primary. In a prepared statement, Marte reiterated charges he’s levied in the past, saying Chin should have done more years ago to stop rampant development. “Today she is rallying outside of DCP,” said Marte, “to protest towers that wouldn’t even have been imagined if she had supported the community-based rezoning plan (as envisioned by the Chinatown Working Group). Today she stands with those who have been on the front line of this fight for years. It is right that she is there for her constituents. But it is too little and it is too late.”

Also appearing at the Marte rally was Tanya Castro-Negron, tenant association president at Lands End II, one of the developments that would be most impacted by the new projects. Castro-Negron is part of a group called Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON), which first raised questions about City Planning’s alleged mishandling of the Two Bridges projects back in May. “Today Margaret Chin and her supporters are protesting DCP,” said Castro-Negron, “with the same challenge made by the LESON group… They are asking LESON and the community to support their action but would not (support) the community’s efforts presented months ago.”

We went into great detail regarding the political back-and-forth over the Two Bridges projects in an earlier story. You can read it here. In short, Council member Chin has stated that she could not have unilaterally approved the Chinatown Working Group Plan, since the support of the City Planning Commission is required. DCP has called the zoning proposal excessively broad.

The Department of City Planning will likely not vote on the Two Bridges proposals until the end of this year. A lawsuit would not occur until that vote happens.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story indicated that City Council candidate Christopher Marte appeared with supporters in the Two Bridges area to criticize Council member Chin. It was later brought to our attention that not all community members appearing with Marte are supporters of his candidacy. The story has been changed to reflect this fact. 

 

Letter to Department of City Planning: Two Bridges Development by The Lo-Down on Scribd

Two Bridges Mega Towers: City Council Politics Influences Development Debate

A rally was held in the Two Bridges neighborhood on July 21.

A rally was held in the Two Bridges neighborhood on July 21.

A Democratic primary in New York City is just about six weeks away, which means there’s more bluster than usual surrounding many big community issues. Election-year politics definitely played a major role July 21 at a rally in the Two Bridges neighborhood.

We already reported on the rally, in which City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced they’re prepared to sue if the City Planning Commission approves three huge development projects in the Two Bridges area. Today we’re taking a closer look at the politics around the contentious debate.

The city is now evaluating the proposals, which would add around 2,000 mostly market rate apartments along the East River. The projects include JDS Development Group’s 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. A final decision from the city is not expected until well after election day.

In this story, we’re looking at several accusations levied against Council member Chin by her political rivals, and claims made by Chin and Brewer about the developers.

Claim #1: Council member Chin should have prevented the expiration of the Two Bridges Urban Renewal Area

City Council candidate Christopher Marte said in a statement released before the rally, “Our Council member knew when the protective zoning was expiring, and she did not renew it.” Does he have a point?

The Two Bridges Urban Renewal Area extended from Market Street to Montgomery Street along the East River. When the plan expired in 2007, limits on the size of new buildings were lifted. The expiration was apparently not on anyone’s radar at the time, although there was anxiety (and even a boisterous rally) about the possibility of a luxury tower replacing the Cherry Street Pathmark store. While Margaret Chin was a longtime community activist in Chinatown, she was not elected to the City Council until November of 2009. The expiration of the urban renewal area occurred during Council member Alan Gerson’s watch two years earlier.

End of story? Not quite, at least not as far as Chin’s opponents are concerned. While he concedes that Chin was not in office when the urban renewal area expired, Marte says she could have acted to put protective zoning in place at any point in the past seven-and–a-half years. In 2012, Pathmark carried through with its threats to close the store, and developer Gary Barnett purchased the site for $150 million. At about the same time, the HealthCare Chaplaincy was pitching the community board on its plans for a large residential and nursing facility on another parcel in the Two Bridges area. The development pressures in the neighborhood, Marte argues, were apparent to everyone, yet no strategy was put in place to fight the looming development frenzy.

Chin’s supporters note that there were no concrete development plans, only rumors. Earlier this year, Council member Chin introduced legislation that would require the city to notify communities when urban renewal areas are about to expire. “Though we cannot turn back time to prevent the expiration of the Two Bridges URA,” Chin said at the time, “this legislation is integral to my mission to keep similar situations from happening again, and to carry on the fight by continuing to demand a full public review, including an up-or-down City Council vote, on the mega-towers at Two Bridges.”

Margaret Chin addressed Chinatown Working Group members shortly after her election in 2009.

Margaret Chin addressed Chinatown Working Group members in 2010.

Claim #2: Enactment of the full Chinatown Working Group Plan could have saved Two Bridges from over-development

Challengers in District 1, especially candidate Dashia Imperiale, have hit Chin hard over the notion that she has refused to support the full Chinatown Working Group Plan, which called for a rezoning across a large swathe of Lower Manhattan.

The CWG coalition, at one point boasting more than 50 member groups, began meeting in 2008 to create a master plan for protecting Chinatown from over-development and gentrification. Along the way, members dropped out, there were fierce battles among rival organizations and many starts-and-stops. Finally, in January of 2014, the Chinatown Working Group came out with a proposal that called for rezoning the historic core of Chinatown, but also the Two Bridges area and large sections of the Lower East Side. In February of 2015, the plan was rejected by the Department of City Planning, which called the proposal too expansive. City officials criticized its, “aggressive across-the-board height limits,” while leaving the door slightly open to a more limited rezoning. Two years later, Community Board 3 has finally convened a new subcommittee to resume work on the proposal. It has the support of Council member Chin.

All elected officials, not only Chin, steered clear of the Chinatown Working Group while members were debating their plan, on the theory that would have been inappropriate to intervene in a community-driven process. Once the deliberations ended, however, longtime opponents of Council member Chin unloaded on her, calling attempts to focus on smaller areas of Chinatown for rezoning racist and exclusionary. Chin was supportive of a piecemeal approach, suggesting that an “all-or-nothing” strategy was unrealistic and counter-productive.

Supporters of Council member Chin point out that any proposal floated over the years to focus on one section of the neighborhood, such as Two Bridges, has been denounced in the strongest terms by some local activists. So while in theory the Chinatown Working Group Plan could have led to a downzoning along the waterfront, the Chin team argues, city opposition and the refusal within the community to compromise, made it impossible. They also emphasize the Council member’s responsibility as an elected representative to get what she can for her community, even if it frustrates some constituents who want more.

The Council member’s opponents believe, however, that she almost always acquiesces to city officials and developers too easily, and that Chin should have fought harder for the full plan.

Rendering of proposed tower at 247 Cherry St., SHoP Architects.

Rendering of proposed tower at 247 Cherry St., SHoP Architects.

Claim #3: Developers have failed to provide adequate information about the displacement of senior residents during construction

A press release from Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer renewed criticism of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Settlement Housing Fund for, “attempting to reach a secret agreement with HUD to displace seniors (at 80 Rutgers Slip) to clear the way for luxury development.” At the rally, Chin said, “Today we still don’t know how many of them will have to be relocated or where they will even go if one of the proposed towers is built on top of them.” Brewer added, “We keep asking, and asking, and asking,” yet there are no answers. 

The two not-for-profit groups operate the senior building and sold a development parcel and air rights to JDS Development Group. Early this year, The Lo-Down obtained correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act request, showing the organizations’ preliminary plan. It stated that the new project, to be built over the senior complex, could lead to the displacement of up to 19 residents. The elected officials say they were completely in the dark about the groups’ overtures to HUD.

Following the rally, representatives of the development team and Two Bridges Neighborhood Council told us that they’re not trying to conceal anything from the elected officials or the community. They say the construction plan has not been finalized and they do not yet know exactly how many tenants will be displaced. A firm has been hired, they note, to work directly with residents, and any changes at 80 Rutgers Slip must go through a rigorous regulatory process, mandated by HUD.

Months after we published the letters to and from HUD, this much is clear: the revelations created an atmosphere of mistrust between the development team and local elected officials, and convinced many in the community that the process is totally lacking in transparency.

Two Bridges environmental review meeting, Jan. 18.

Two Bridges environmental review meeting, Jan. 18.

Claim #4: A community task force disintegrated because the development teams walked way from the table

Last summer, the City Planning Commission rejected Council member Chin’s request for a full land use review (ULURP), which would have required approval of development plans by the City Council. The consolation prize was an “enhanced environmental review (EIS),” essentially four public meetings to discuss the impact of the new buildings on mass transit, roads, schools, etc. As we reported last December, Chin and Brewer assembled a community task force, which included resident leaders and representatives from the development teams. At last month’s rally, Brewer said of the community engagement efforts, “We gave it a chance, we worked with the wonderful tenant leaders, we worked with the task force. It broke down when the developers refused to meet with the task force following a difficult community meeting.”

No doubt about it: that January 18 meeting was heated, and it ultimately led the developers to rethink their participation in the “enhanced EIS.” But the development partners say they never wavered from engaging with the community.

As the meeting got underway, residents rose from their chairs, protest signs in hand, and denounced the projects and the community engagement process. They demanded a delay in the proceedings to give resident leaders more time for meaningful community outreach (the developers later rejected that request). Many people walked out of the room, refusing to take part in small group brainstorming sessions organized by Karp Strategies, a planning firm working for the developers.

The development teams have pointed out that their involvement in the public meetings, as well as the task force, was voluntary. While they decided against attending future task force meetings, developer representatives have continued to meet with residents to talk through various issues, and intend to hold more meetings in the future. They also went ahead with two scheduled public meetings in March and June. Questions and answers from all of the public sessions have been posted online.  Detailed reports from Karp Strategies included comments from locals intent on stopping the plans from going forward.

The task force meetings were closed to the public, so we have no direct knowledge of what transpired. We did, however, speak with a number of participants, all of whom concede the deliberations were fraught. Margaret Chin and Gale Brewer were listed on task force membership rosters as co-chairs. Residents tell us they unsuccessfully lobbied for top leadership roles within the group. Karp Strategies played a major role in shaping the meetings, residents say, and this was a point of contention. Ultimately, tenant leaders came to believe that the meetings were designed to fast-track the proposals, and that there was no real opportunity for the community to change the development plans in any meaningful way. Making matters worse was the fact that tenant representatives were not always in agreement on strategy.  At the city’s official EIS scoping hearing in May, the task force failed to deliver a joint statement detailing the community’s priorities.

So when Brewer says the task force broke down because the developers walked away, she is partially correct. It’s tough to have a negotiation with a party who is not at the table. In the end, some participants concluded that the development teams were unprepared to cope with the messiness of a community process, in an environment they could not control. At the same time, however, the group was clearly dysfunctional, and members were dealing with their own organizational issues that had nothing to do with the developers.

Maureen Koetz and Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors held a media event on Cherry Street  May 11.

Maureen Koetz and Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors held a media event on Cherry Street May 11.

Claim #5: Elected officials waited too long to make a strong stand

At the rally, Chin and Brewer called on the Department of City Planning to reject the development plans in their current form and to order a ULURP in the Two Bridges area. If these things don’t happen, the elected officials say they’re prepared to file a lawsuit to block the projects.

Back in May, a new group called Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON) talked about suing the city. In a press statement following the July rally, the LESON group blasted Chin, Brewer and Mayor de Blasio, writing, “We know this is an election year (and) that’s why they are putting on a show. We have seen these tactics many times in the past where they divert attention away from real community-led solutions.”

What “community-led solutions” do they have in mind? In an interview just this morning, LESON’s attorney, Maureen Koetz, told us she’s not contemplating a suit right now. Koetz’s priority is making sure city agencies follow the law. City officials contend no new waivers or special permits are required for the mega-towers. Koetz believes they are wrong. She says no new building can occur in the Two Bridges LSRD (a large-scale development area) unless the city shows there will be no negative impacts on the existing community.

The elected officials have been vague about a potential lawsuit. The City Planning Commission is not likely to vote on the projects until late this year. The plan, being developed with not-for-profit legal groups, is to file an Article 78 challenge, which is a means of fighting official decisions from government agencies.  It’s an argument that obviously can only be made after the final environmental review is published and the planning commission makes its decision.  Koetz may have been first to discuss in public a challenge to City Planning’s interpretation of the zoning code, but it’s also an argument advanced by Community Board 3 in its comments at the May scoping meeting.

During a June 21 town hall meeting on the Lower East Side, the mayor said he sees no way to stop the proposed towers, because his administration has concluded that they are legally permissible. Council member Chin challenged him about that, saying,  “We’ve got to find a way (to stop or change the projects).”  Even if there are long odds in court, at least some tenant leaders are relieved that the elected officials are now taking a more forceful stand. They wish more had been done earlier, but are mostly hopeful that something can be done now to stop, or at least reduce the scale, of the projects. Chin’s supporters say her new approach is not a case of, “too little, too late.” Once the city rejected her ULURP request and developers agreed to the expanded environmental review, elected officials were obligated to give the process a chance. That’s now run it’s course, they argue, clearing the way for a more assertive stance.

So this story ends where it began. Margaret Chin’s supporters say she is fully committed to working with the community, but also focused on attainable results in the Two Bridges neighborhood. Chin’s detractors, meanwhile, insist her advocacy for the community has been far too tepid. This is the debate that will be front-and center during the six weeks that remain before the Democratic Primary in District 1.

 

Chin, Brewer Threaten Lawsuit Over Two Bridges Mega-Towers

Local elected officials held a rally Friday, July 21 on Rutgers Street.

Local elected officials held a rally Friday, July 21 on Rutgers Slip.

At a rally held on Friday morning, City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer threatened legal action if the City Planning Commission approves three large-scale development projects in the Two Bridges area.

A joint environmental review is now underway for the towers, which would range in height from 62-79 stories and add around 2,000 mostly market rate apartments in the historically low-income area. Residents have been fighting the projects for months. Since the buildings would all be located in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area, the Planning Commission must give its approval. Last summer, city officials rejected a request from Council member Chin for a full land use review (ULURP) in the Two Bridges neighborhood. A ULURP would have given the City Council leverage over the proposals.

The rally took place in front of 82 Rutgers Slip, a senior building that will bear the brunt of one of the developments, a 79-story tower from JDS Development Group. The project would be built over the low-income senior complex and could displace up to 20 senior residents. [Developers have said the residents will be relocated in the immediate area.]

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Chin and Brewer gathered with other elected officials, including Public Advocate Letitia James and State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, as well as tenant leaders and local tenant advocates. In her remarks, the Council member said, “These monstrosities will threaten the very character of this neighborhood… We are here to remind the administration and the developers that these projects are not a done deal.” 

“To the members of the City Planning Commission,” Chin added, “we have a simple message: If you rule against this community, we will use every tool at our disposal to make sure the voices of the people are heard.” While she did not specifically mention a lawsuit in her remarks, a press release from Chin’s office threatened, “legal action against the Administration” if the projects are approved in their current form.

The projects include the JDS 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. City Planning decided a ULURP was not called for because the developments would have required, in urban planning speak, only a “minor modification,” rather than a “major modification,” of the LSRD Plan. The review does not include One Manhattan Square, the 80-story luxury condo tower well on its way to completion on the former Cherry Street Pathmark site.

Extell's One Manhattan Square looms over the senior building which was the backdrop for Friday's rally.

Extell’s One Manhattan Square looms over the senior building which was the backdrop for Friday’s rally.

Both Chin and Brewer worked with the development teams and local residents on a series of public meetings and organized a community task force to help shape the environmental review. But that collaboration ended badly earlier this year. On Friday, Brewer explained, “We gave it a chance, we worked with the wonderful tenant leaders, we worked with the task force. It broke down when the developers refused to meet with the task force following a difficult community meeting.”

“We are now calling on City Planning to get this right, to reconsider the incorrect decision they made,” said Brewer. “We’re both stating, for the record, we’re willing to do what it takes, to support legal action if we have to. This is not an outrageous request.”

Assembly member Niou said, “Our message is clear. These luxury towers do not belong on the Lower East Side. The community has long opposed them and the city must reject plans to develop them.” In a statement, State Sen. Daniel Squadron added, “The massive development proposals in the Two Bridges neighborhood would come with massive impact on the community — and yet the community’s role is massively insufficient.”

When it was her turn at the podium, Public Advocate Letitia James urged unity. “All of us should be of one accord,” said James. “There should not be any space between us, because if they see space, they will take advantage of that… I’ve been to too many events where the community has been divided and the developers win.”

Almost all community activists agree that the towers must be stopped, or at least downsized. In an election year, however, with Council member Chin battling for a third term against three outspoken rivals, the community is definitely not speaking with one voice.

Tanya Castro-Negron is aligned with a group critical of Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer.

Tanya Castro-Negron is aligned with a group critical of Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer.

Back in May, a new group, Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON), announced it planned to file a lawsuit against the city over the Two Bridges projects, and blasted the Chin/Brewer approach as too developer friendly. A member of the organization, Tanya Castro-Negron, spoke on Friday in her capacity as tenant president of Lands End II, one of the developments that would be most affected by the new towers. “Yes, we stand behind our leaders,” said Castro-Negron. “We stand behind our elected officials, who with transparency, speak with us.” She went on to complain, however, that community members have been prevented from speaking out in the past, particularly during environmental review meetings. She asked, “Will you allow the people of the community to speak in this process?” In a separate statement, LESON criticized Chin and Brewer for failing to followup after meeting with group members in May and June.

A City Council candidate, Dashia Imperiale, then interjected, asking why the threat of a lawsuit against the city is only being mentioned now. As City Council aides brought the rally to an abrupt end, Imperiale shouted, “This is a sham!… Shame on you!” A few hours earlier, Christopher Marte, another candidate for the District 1 seat released a statement that read, in part, “Margaret Chin’s attempt to take a stand against the waterfront developments is too little, too late.”

Imperiale, Marte and a third candidate, Aaron Foldenauer, stood should-to-shoulder on the sidewalk to make their case against the incumbent. “If Margaret Chin really wanted to do something about this,” said Foledenauer, “she would have acted years ago, not just two months prior to a hotly contested election.”

Aaron Foldenauer, Dashia Imperiale, Christopher Marte.

Aaron Foldenauer, Dashia Imperiale, Christopher Marte.

In a statement following the rally, a spokesperson for Council member Chin fired back. Marian Guerra, Chin’s director of communications, responded specifically to the complaints that community voices were silenced during environmental review meetings.  “The EIS process given to the community instead of a ULURP,” said Guerra, “is led by the developer and the Department of City Planning. Neither Council Member Chin nor Borough President Brewer have control over this process, and they had zero say about how the developers ran their meetings.” The statement went on to say, “the harmful notion that this community action (to demand a ULURP) is ‘too little, too late’ is exactly what is discouraging the community from coming together to fight back.”

On Friday, we contacted the Department of City Planning about Chin and Brewer’s demands.  Here’s the statement we were provided:

The City must follow the law. While the modifications sought for the Two Bridges sites do not trigger ULURP – in other words no new density or waivers are needed –a thorough environmental review which offers multiple opportunities for the public and elected officials to participate is being conducted. Moreover we are ensuring a coordinated review by the project applicants that looks at the cumulative effects of these three developments at the same time — an extraordinary but important measure that is not ordinarily required. This coordinated review will help produce the best possible outcome for this neighborhood. Much as we appreciate the desire of the community to do so, there are no grounds under which a ULURP could legally be required in this instance.

The mayor attended a town hall on the Lower East Side last month.

The mayor attended a town hall on the Lower East Side last month.

It should be noted that Mayor de Blasio heard a direct appeal from community members about the mega-towers during a June 21 town hall meeting on the Lower East Side. During that event, Two Bridges tenant leader Trever Holland asked why the city would forego a ULURP, given the massive size and impact of the proposed projects.

In his answer, the mayor contended that previous administrations were to blame for approving land use plans in the Two Bridges area long ago. Referring to the new projects, de Blasio said, “We do not believe… we can just turn it off. I’m just being real with you. We believe it is legally moving forward.” Council member Chin, who moderated the town hall, chimed in, telling the mayor, “I really disagree with the administration. Every time I look at those proposed towers, it really makes me sick to my stomach.” She added, “We can not allow it to happen. We’ve got to find a way (to stop or change the projects), and I’m looking for a way to push back.”

The mayor responded, “Once a development plan is locked in place by law, it’s not easy to undo it. I’ve got to be clear about this.”  He said the city hoped to address the concerns about over-development in the Two Bridges area by “maximizing the affordability” of the new buildings. His administration announced that 25% of the apartments in the three developments would be made available to families earning 60% of Area Median Income (AMI). Another 10% will be set aside for families earning 40% of AMI.

The City Planning Commission will likely not vote on the Two Bridges projects until close to the end of this year.

 

 

Chin, Brewer Plan Friday Rally to Urge Rejection of Mega Towers in Two Bridges Area (Updated)

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

It looks like the battle over three new large-scale towers on the waterfront in the Two Bridges area is escalating.

We just received a press advisory from the office of City Council member Margaret Chin announcing a rally in the neighborhood tomorrow morning. The headline reads, “Council member Chin and Manhattan Borough President Brewer to announce next chapter in fight against Two Bridges mega-towers.” According to the advisory, the city administration will be urged, “to reject all three applications and commit to a transparent and thorough public review.”

The projects include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 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. They’re currently undergoing a joint environmental review. Here’s more from the press advisory:

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., Council Member Margaret S. Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will join tenant leaders and community advocates to publicly pressure the City Planning Commission to deny the applications in Two Bridges when they vote later this year.  The announcement will be made at 80 Rutgers Slip, a senior building upon which one of the proposed towers would build, forcing an unknown numbers of seniors to relocate. Elected officials will reaffirm their position that these towers are not a done deal and call for a thorough and transparent public review of the proposed projects.

Others joining the press event include tenant leaders from Two Bridges Tower and Lands End I, as well as representatives from GOLES and CAAAV, the Lower East Side/Chinatown tenant advocacy groups.

This past spring, a new group called Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON) announced plans to sue the city over the projects. When they speak tomorrow, we’ll see whether the Council member and Borough President are also anticipating legal action.

Last summer, the Department of City Planning rejected Council member Chin’s request for a ULURP in the Two Bridges area, a full land use review that would have given the Council a formal role in deciding whether the projects move forward. The agency said proposed changes in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Plan amounted to a “minor modification” as opposed to a “major modification” of the plan, meaning a ULURP was not required.

UPDATE 7:40 a.m. Council member Chin faces several challengers in a Democratic Primary Election this coming fall. The Two Bridges development controversy is sure to be a big topic of conversation during the campaign. Here’s part of a statement we received from one of the challengers. Christopher Marte, last night:

Margaret Chin’s attempt to take a stand against the waterfront developments is too little, too late. When the community organized against the developers at the EIS meetings, our Councilperson creeped out the back door. After the third such protest, the EIS meetings were re-organized in a way that intentionally deprived the full community of being able to actually meet. Instead of weeknights, they were moved to Saturday mornings. Instead of being hosted in an open hall, they were divided up into subsections by rooms.These meetings were a sham, just as today’s rally is. Our Councilmember knew when the protective zoning was expiring, and she did not renew it. Our Councilmember knew about the Chinatown Working Group plan, which would have prevented these towers, and she did not implement it. Our Councilmember knew that these luxury towers would displace seniors and cause second-hand displacement for countless residents, and she let the developers have their way.

 What to make of Marte’s accusations? We’ll have more about that in our story following today’s really.

City Officials Grilled on Two Bridges Mega-Towers During City Council Hearing

City Council member Margaret Chin questioned city officials during a hearing June 15.

City Council member Margaret Chin questioned city officials during a hearing June 15.

A hearing (watch the video) was held last week on City Council member Margaret Chin’s legislation that would require the city to notify communities when urban renewal areas are set to expire. The public meeting of the Council’s land use committee also offered local lawmakers an opportunity to grill representatives of city agencies about several proposed Two Bridges mega-towers.

Those projects would add about 2,000 mostly market-rate apartments in towers ranging in height from 62-80 stories along the East Side waterfront. A joint environmental review is now underway for the large-scale towers, which are located in an urban renewal area that expired in 2007.  The review does not include Extell Development’s One Manhattan Square, an 80-story luxury condo project that will add another 1,000 apartments to the immediate area.

During the hearing, Council member Chin argued that public notification would have given her community an important tool to fight over-development. Residents would have been able, she explained, to ask for an extension of the urban renewal area or a rezoning if they had known restrictions on development were set to expire. In a press release, she stated, “We must take action now to ensure that all communities, especially those that are predominately low income and of color, are equipped with the knowledge and tools to protect their neighborhoods. Though we cannot turn back time to prevent the expiration of the Two Bridges URA, this legislation is integral to my mission to keep similar situations from happening again, and to carry on the fight by continuing to demand a full public review, including an up-or-down City Council vote, on the mega-towers at Two Bridges.”

Last summer, the Department of City Planning rejected Chin’s request for a ULURP in the Two Bridges area, a full land use review that would have given the Council a formal role in deciding whether the projects move forward. The agency said proposed changes in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Plan amounted to a “minor modification” as opposed to a “major modification” of the plan, meaning a ULURP was not required. 

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

At last Thursday’s hearing, Chin noted that the underlying zoning along the waterfront (C6-4a) permits what she called “humungous” towers. But she argued that the new buildings are definitely not in the spirit of the original urban renewal area. Every time she sees photos of the Extell tower, said Chin, “it makes me sick to my stomach.” She added, “What is being proposed is totally out of scale. We cannot allow (the plan) to go forward.” Addressing officials from the Department of City Planning and Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Chin asserted, “You share responsibility with us. Something has got to be done.”

The officials said they agreed in principle with Chin’s proposal for public notification, but they pushed back on the notion that the towers in the Two Bridges area are inappropriate for the neighborhood. The chairman of the land use committee, David Greenfield, asked a series of pointed questions of the city bureaucrats and argued that stronger legislation is required to protect local communities. 

Representatives from the Department of City Planning said the Lower East Side plans were deemed to be “minor modifications” because the developers were not asking for new or modified waivers. They were simply asking the city to lift floor area limits. Greenfield, however, made the case that any plan adding 2.2 million square feet and 2,000 apartments to an existing neighborhood, “amounts to a pretty big modification.”

Photo courtesy of the Office of Council member Margaret Chin.

Community members and advocates testified at last week’s hearing. Photo courtesy of the Office of Council member Margaret Chin.

Erik Botsford, deputy Manhattan director of City Planning, said, “We understand the community’s concerns (about these projects).” He conceded that the phrase, “minor modification,” is “perhaps an unfortunate term” in reference to one-thousand foot towers. The officials, however, insisted that the projects are allowable under New York’s land use rules.

Greenfield countered by asking, “Would you agree that this is a major change to the original plan?” He also asked why Mayor de Blasio would not have insisted on a rezoning in the area to require affordable housing in the new projects (the developers are voluntarily setting aside 25% of their units for affordable housing in exchange for tax benefits). City Planning’s Joel Kolkmann responded, “These are obviously large buildings.” He said the city’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program (MIH) is only feasible in neighborhoods that can be upzoned (Two Bridges is already zoned for maximum density). “These types of large-scale districts are not unusual along the waterfront,” said Kolkmann, arguing that the large-scale towers under review are appropriate for the community. 

There was also testimony from Trever Holland, a tenant leader who read a statement on behalf of neighborhood advocacy groups GOLES and CAAAV. He said there are serious concerns about the threat of displacement of low-income tenants as a result of the luxury developments. He also cited worries about flood protection in the low-lying area and noted the city’s refusal to consider a large-scale rezoning of the community as proposed by the Chinatown Working Group.

In the end, Greenfield told city officials he believes there’s obviously a flaw in the law if massive development projects like the ones under review in the Two Bridges aren’t subject to public review. He called it a loophole that needs to be closed.

On a related note, a community engagement meeting will be held Saturday, June 24 to discuss the Two Bridges environmental review. It will take place at the Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadwaay, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

The projects include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 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.

Two Bridges Environmental Review Hearings Take Place Tomorrow

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

A variety of Lower East Side groups will be delivering oral remarks tomorrow during two public hearings on the upcoming Two Bridges environmental review. The scoping meetings will help determine what areas are studied in the environmental impact assessment of three large-scale residential towers coming to the waterfront.

Last night, Community Board 3 approved its statement, portions of which will be read tomorrow by Chairperson Jamie Rogers. The document is 12 pages long.

In an unusual move, the city decided to consider all three projects together. They include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 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.

We have embedded the full CB3 statement (see below). Among many other points, the board argues that the projects are inconsistent with the Large Scale Residential Development Plan (LSRD) enacted in 1972. In creating “super-tall” buildings dwarfing every other structure in the area, the projects would, CB3 wrote, “introduce building forms to this neighborhood that are new to the District and contrary to local plans.” While zoning in the area allows high density towers, the board contends that, “the right to build under those densities was removed” when the 1972 plan was put into effect. 

CB3 will make a number of other arguments tomorrow. Among them:

  • That the Department of City Planning may have erred in declaring the plans a minor modification of the LSRD.
  • That too few details have been provided about the creation of 694 units of affordable housing as part of the three projects.
  • That alternative plans, including lower-scale options, should be studied.
  • That a one-quarter mile study radius is insufficient (CB3 believes the impact area should extend at least to Grand Street and the Bowery).
  • That there’s a flawed method of studying secondary residential displacement in the area.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin will also offer their opinions at tomorrow’s hearings. A community task force that they helped lead has been working on oral remarks for some time, but that group is not expected to have a separate statement tomorrow. Trever Holland, a tenant leader and task force member, told us today it’s not clear why the group will not be speaking in one unified voice at the meetings. “It was my impression that we were all on the same page,” he said. [One point of universal agreement: the task force has been highly dysfunctional.] A written statement could still be in-the-works in time to meet a June 8 deadline.

Maureen Koetz and Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors held a media event on Cherry Street  May 11.

Maureen Koetz and Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors held a media event on Cherry Street May 11.

Another faction weighing in tomorrow will be Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON), a group that just formed this month to fight the towers. In a news conference May 11, they introduced attorney Maureen Koetz, who said she is preparing to sue the city over its handling of the Two Bridges projects. Koetz is a familiar figure in downtown political circles. In 2014, she ran as a Republican against former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, who was convicted on federal corruption charges the following year. 

City officials have stated that no special permits or new waivers are required to build in the Two Bridges LSRD. Koetz, however, disagrees with this assessment, asserting that special permits are required under New York City’s zoning resolution. “You can’t get these special permits,” said Koetz, unless you can show that you are not going to materially interfere with the community’s existing (conditions).”

Many of those standing behind Koetz at the May 11 event were from National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), a group that has repeatedly called for the resignation of Mayor de Blasio and Council member Chin. Another participant was Tanya Castro, a tenant leader in the Two Bridges area. In a press release, she said, “These (public) EIS meetings that Chin held (during the past several months) have been nothing but pro-development events.  If they were real spaces for community engagement, then environmental hazards such as the fact that the megatowers would add systemic overload to the Newtown Creek drainage basin, a superfund site, would have been raised.  Or issues of adverse effects to light and air at adjacent properties to the new construction would have been raised – all of which we will face if these towers go up.”

The scoping meetings will be held at the Manhattan Municipal Building, Mezzanine level, 1 Centre St. The first session will begin at 2 p.m. The second session will begin at 6 p.m. Written comments will be accepted until the close of business on June 8. Click here for more details about the meetings.

 

Local Groups Focus on Threat to Rent Stabilized Housing From New Two Bridges Towers

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Three large-scale development projects in the Two Bridges area are expected to add more than 2,000 luxury apartments in a traditionally low-income community. So in an upcoming environmental study, local activists consider it critically important to analyze the impact of the new buildings on rent regulated apartments. The problem, however is this: there are no plans to evaluate in a comprehensive way how the Lower East Side’s affordable housing stock will be affected by the luxury towers.

At a meeting of Community Board 3 last week, land use committee members discussed how to deal with this issue, as well as other perceived shortcomings in a Draft Scoping Document (a plan detailing what specifically will be studied). The board will submit comments regarding the document at a public hearing May 25.

A joint environmental review will be conducted for the projects, which include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 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 developers have filed requests with the Department of City Planning for a “minor modification” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Residential Development Plan (first approved in 1970). While all of their buildings are allowed under current zoning, they require the city to lift limits on floor area permitted under the plan.

Diagram shows Two Bridges Large Scale Development Plan area.

Diagram shows Two Bridges Large Scale Development Plan area.

An organization called the Collective for Community, Culture and Environment has been working to fight the towers with the leaders of local tenant organizations and GOLES, the neighborhood preservation, group. The planners are suggesting that the proposals may go well beyond minor modifications and could actually qualify as a neighborhood rezoning. They also plan to challenge city rules which prevent a detailed study of rent stabilized housing. As it stands, the environmental review will only look comprehensively at market rate housing.

While the tenant groups were engaging an urban planning collective, the community board also hired a planning consultant to offer expert advice. George Janes previously worked with CB6 and CB11, and has now been asked to help the Lower East Side board shape its response to the draft scope. In brief remarks at least week’s meeting, Janes noted that the new plans total more than 2.2 million square feet. “It is very significant in terms of scale,” said Janes, adding that he believes the community has “some leverage.” Since any increase in floor area must be approved by the City Planning Commission and since the large-scale residential development plan has been in place for 45 years, Janes argued, “there is a good argument to have a lower scale alternative to be studied.” At the moment, the environmental review will look at only two options: the developers’ plan and a “no action” scenario.

Some committee members cautioned against giving residents false hope about upending the developers’ plans. Damaris Reyes, executive director of GOLES, said, “I’m not one to downplay a fight and leverage, because I believe power concedes nothing without demand, but I just want folks to be clear.” These types of proposals, she added, are almost always approved by the city. “Where we will find our leverage,” argued Reyes, “will be in what we get studied and what those mitigations (remedies to the developments’ adverse impacts) are.” Tim Laughlin, president of the LES Partnership agreed, saying, “I don’t think there’s a silver bullet to stop the minor modification.”

Committee member Lisa Kaplan said one of her biggest concerns is that the study area is too small (it’s only a quarter-mile around the development sites).  The projects, she said, are “going to have an impact on the affordability of this neighborhood (well beyond the Two Bridges area).” 

(L-R) 247 Cherry St., 260 South St., 259 Clinton St.

(L-R) 247 Cherry St., 260 South St., 259 Clinton St.

In the environmental review, there are 18 different categories that will be evaluated. At the meeting, committee members went around the table, highlighting their top issues. These included: the condition and accessibility of the F Train station on East Broadway/Madison Street, the lack of MTA bus service, pedestrian and cyclist safety on surrounding streets, school overcrowding, flood protection measures along the East River, availability of food stores, the lack of a full-service hospital and other medical facilities, the potential displacement of small businesses and the diminishment of light and air due to the new towers. Another concern: the potential for harassment of longtime residents due to increased police protection in the area.

During a public speaking session, several residents and housing activists were given an opportunity to talk about their own concerns. Daisy Echevarria, a tenant leader at 275 South St., said, “these monstrous-sized buildings should never have been allowed,” pointing out that the city rejected a request for a sweeping rezoning of Chinatown and the Lower East Side in 2015 (a smaller scale rezoning is still potentially on the table). The Department of City Planning, she asserted, only seems concerned with making zoning changes to benefit developers, not communities. “Mayor de Blasio keeps allowing developers to build luxury high rises for a paltry number of affordable apartments,” said Echevarria.

Another tenant leader, Marc Richardson, said his biggest worry about the projects is that they will more than double the number of apartments in a two block stretch of the East River. Since these apartments will be 75% market rate, the Two Bridges area will be transformed, and not necessarily to the liking of the existing the community. “I’m most concerned about changing the character and demographics of the neighborhood,” said Richardson.

Melanie Wong, who works for the advocacy group CAAAV, argued that the environmental study should include an evaluation of lost rent stabilized housing in the neighborhood during the past 5-10 years. Trever Holland, tenant president at Two Bridges Tower, called for a detailed plan to accommodate several senior residents who will be displaced from 80 Rutgers Slip.

Another local tenant leader, Aaron Gonzalez, said he’s convinced landlords will raise rents on area businesses serving low- and middle-income residents. He concluded, “these monstrous behemoths rising with their shiny exteriors are nothing but a facade. What lurks under the skin is the beginning of the erosion of our neighborhood character.”

Jan. 18 meeting, Two Bridges environmental review.

December 2016 meeting, Two Bridges environmental review.

The development teams have pledged to work with community leaders to soften the impact of their projects. One-quarter of the apartments in each tower will be set aside for affordable housing. This past winter, they conducted a series of public forums ahead of the environmental review. On a website set up by the developers, they have provided answers to many of the questions raised at these events.

In one of the meetings, they were asked whether the environmental review would, “study the potential for displacement of tenants in rent-protected units due to harassment” and whether “landlords will be incentivized to harass tenants” due to rising rents in the neighborhood. They responded that both city and state agencies, “administer measures against tenant harassment and, in severe cases, provide strong penalties for tenant harassment and illegal eviction.”  As for concerns that the impact on rent stabilized housing won’t be thoroughly evaluated, they said the environmental review will, “identify the populations that are most at risk of displacement…”

The community board will resume discussions about the Two Bridges scoping document next month. In the meantime, tenant leaders and the offices of elected officials are conducting a survey to reach community members who might not have attended previous public meetings.

Two Bridges Environmental Review, Chinatown Rezoning on Tonight’s CB3 Agenda

One Manhattan Square towers over the Manhattan Bridge. Photo by Joel Raskin.

One Manhattan Square towers over the Manhattan Bridge. Photo by Joel Raskin.

The future of Chinatown and the Two Bridges area will be back on the agenda when Community Board 3’s land use committee meets tonight.

The panel will be crafting a response to the Draft Scope of Work recently published by the Department of City Planning for the upcoming Two Bridges environmental review. That environmental assessment will study the impact of three large-scale residential towers planned along the East River, from Pike Slip to Clinton Street. A hearing on the draft scope was originally scheduled for the end of the month, but at the request of local elected officials, it will now be held May 25. Local residents have many concerns about the projects, from the potential displacement of low-income tenants, to the loss of light and air, strains on the public transportation system and the impact on crowded public schools and medical facilities.

Two related discussions will take place this evening. The land use committee will be asked to support Extell Development’s application for a tax abatement at One Manhattan Square, the 80-story tower now under construction at 250 South St.. The project includes about 200 units of affordable housing in a separate building. The 421-a application was set in motion before the program expired. While the community board has little influence over the application, committee members are sure to ask the developers pointed questions about the unpopular project. Among them: the status of a long-promised replacement for the Pathmark Grocery store, a casualty of the luxury tower.

The panel tonight will also resume talks about a potential rezoning of Chinatown, a hugely contentious topic. The city previously agreed to entertain a limited rezoning, though some community members have rejected a piecemeal approach.

Finally, the committee will continue a conversation about the fate of 11 affordable condominium units at 242 Broome St., part of the Essex Crossing project. Last month, board members were dismayed to learn that these apartments were not guaranteed permanent affordability. Discussions have been taking place with city officials and the development team about the issue. Tonight, some of the questions they previously asked will be answered.

Tonight’s meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. at University Settlement, 273 Bowery.

City Delays Environmental Review Meeting For Two Bridges Area (Updated)

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

The Department of City Planning today announced that it’s pushing off a public scoping meeting for the upcoming Two Bridges environmental review until May 25. It had originally been scheduled for April 27.

The environmental review is meant to study how the Lower East Side will be impacted by three large-scale residential projects along the East River. City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer put out a press release heralding the delay.

The elected officials wrote a letter to the developers of the three projects March 17, asking them to support a delay. They declined, just as they had when local residents made a similar request earlier this year. Brewer and Chin then fired off a second letter to City Planning, noting that the environmental review documents were not made available in Spanish and Chinese. There are a large number of non-English speakers within the impacted area.

“The Two Bridges community needs time to consider all of the impacts of these massive development projects – and that requires the release of information in a language that they can understand,” said Chin“That is why I joined Borough President Brewer to fight for more time for the community to arrive at a consensus about its needs and desired outcomes. In order to achieve this goal, I will continue to fight to ensure that residents and business owners in Two Bridges are heard.”

The scoping meeting will now take place May 25 at the Manhattan Municipal Building, Mezzanine level, 1 Centre St. There are separate sessions at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. We published the “draft scope of work” last month.

On Wednesday, April 19, Community Board 3’s land use committee is scheduled to discuss its position on the draft scope of work. That meeting takes place at University Settlement, 273 Bowery at 6:30 p.m.

The projects planned in the Two Bridges area include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 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. A spokesperson for the developers declined to comment today. In late March, they released a statement saying, “We share the elected officials’ desire for meaningful community engagement, which is why we believe it’s important to start the scoping process and analyze the issues that have been raised. We have taken part in an unprecedented pre-development process and have gleaned important feedback from three public meetings in the neighborhood and several additional meetings with residents and community groups. We look forward to building on this as we head into the scoping hearing and the environmental review process.”

UPDATE 3:30 p.m. A few more details from a letter sent by DCP Director Marisa Lago to Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer today. The letter notes that the city is legally required to hold the hearing 30-45 days after the draft scope is released. Lago says her agency is committed to providing multi-language access to the community. The scoping notice, she said, would soon be posted in Chinese and Spanish on DCP’s website. The city has also asked the developers to provide translation services at the meeting. They have agreed.

(Opinion) Parking on the Lower East Side is Bad and It’s About to Get a Lot Worse

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

The following op/ed was written by Sam Moskowitz, a 30+ year resident of the Lower East Side. He can be reached at samuelkmoskowitz@gmail.comThe Lo-Down welcomes Lower East Side-relevant submissions from members of our community. They may be sent to: tips@thelodownny.com. Editorials on this website represent the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of The Lo-Down.

The Lower East Side as we have known it for the past 50 years is about to change. We are adding 1,000 units at Essex Crossing, 1,000 more at 250 South St. (in Extell Development’s One Manhattan Square), and the 2,775-unit Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) will pile on and drastically change the landscape of our neighborhood forever. If you are thinking you won’t be affected because you live several blocks away, think again, as the impacts will extend all the way north to Essex Street and beyond. I don’t know how many units the developer will add on the East Broadway Bialystocker site, but if Seward Park cooperators allow the air rights transfer sale, about 3 times the amount of units will be built compared to an as of right project*.

So we’re talking 4,775 units total, about three times the size of the Seward Park Co-op. And how many parking spots will be added to accommodate the luxury unit purchasers who will demand parking for their cars? About -500. Yes, you heard me. We are facing a net loss of 500 spots to accommodate almost 5,000 new apartments.

Map1

The scoping document provided by the Two Bridges LSRD and published on the Lo-Down is packed with troubling alternative facts that they are hoping you don’t read. I’m sure the developer’s environmental studies will show no adverse effects to the neighborhood’s schools, public transportation, traffic, air quality, and other factors they must review as part of the study, but I call shenanigans on their highly flawed parking study.

Their initial parking survey of .25 miles had to be increased to .5 miles just to get the data they are falsely claiming shows off-site capacity. However, the ridiculous notion that off-site parking will meet demand (page 64-65 Table 4 and indicated in the chart below) is undeniably WRONG due to the following reasons: 

1. They do not account for the fact that the vast majority of these parking lots are close to or at 100% of capacity for long-term parking. Many lots show availability in the scoping doc, but only because the lot operators do not lease to capacity to maximize profits on short-term daily/hourly rentals.  

2. The 297 parking spots indicated as Site 11 (map below, Table 4) is Essex Crossing Site 3 (the entirety of Essex Crossing is shown as #3 on the map), which is slated for closure and redevelopment. The extended parking area indicated on this map covers the Essex Crossing site, but the scoping document does not take into account the increased parking demand from that 1,000-unit development.

3. Many of the smaller Chinatown lots are also prime development targets. Maybe not this year or next, but we all know these lots will not all remain parking lots for long and will soon go the way of our Manhattan gas stations…

4. The 250 South St. development is including 110 parking spot for over 1,000 units (200 affordable, 800 market rate). These 100 spots do not alleviate the need for area parking, but only increase demand, as it well below the demand indicated by the 23% of Manhattan residents who own cars. 

This inadequate plan by the developers of the Two Bridges LSRD will compound the negative changes that will be brought by Essex Crossing, 250 South St., and whatever Seward Park cooperators allow to be built on the Bialystocker site on East Broadway. *

chart

What can we do about it? Please take a few minutes and send an email with your comments on this project to rdobrus@planning.nyc.gov.

Please save the date for April 27th and attend either the 2 p.m. or 6 p.m. public scoping meetings at 125 Worth St. If you cannot attend, and even if you can, I strongly urge to submit written comments (feel free to cut and paste from this article) to:

Robert Dobruskin, AICP,  rdobrus@planning.nyc.gov
New York City Planning Commission
ADDRESS   120 Broadway, 31st Floor
NY, NY 10271

* I am not a Seward Park Co-op resident and have nothing to personally gain or lose by the sale of air rights. However, I do believe the infusion of $$$ is a short-sighted decision that will negatively affect the area, and specifically Seward Park cooperators, for the rest of our lives here (not to mention the resale value of the hundreds of your Seward Park neighbors who will be most affected). My family has lived in this neighborhood for six generations, and I can promise you that our decisions today affect our children and following generations. If you are a Seward Park cooperator I strongly urge you to VOTE NO on the air rights sales.

City Releases Two Bridges “Draft Scoping” Document; Public Hearing April 27

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

The Department of City Planning today announced that a “public scoping meeting” for a Two Bridges Environmental Review will be held April 27.

A joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be prepared for three large-scale projects being planned along the East River. There will actually be two sessions. The first begins at 2 p.m., with the second session taking place at 6 p.m. Written comments will be accepted through May 11. The meeting ttakes place at the Health Building, 125 Worth St.

See below for the draft scoping document. More details to come.

Next Environmental Review Meeting For “Two Bridges” Projects Happens on Saturday

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

A third meeting will take place this coming Saturday for the upcoming environmental review in the Two Bridges area. The first two sessions, held in December and January, were contentious affairs. It’s anyone’s guess what the third gathering will bring.

The developers of three proposed projects are taking part in a joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). These meetings are part of an enhanced public process they agreed to participate in, along with local elected officials. The projects include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 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.

Saturday’s meeting, being described as an “open house,” happens Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadway.

Leaders in the Two Bridges neighborhood read a statement during an environmental review meeting Jan. 18.

Leaders in the Two Bridges neighborhood read a statement during an environmental review meeting Jan. 18.

At the most recent public gathering, Jan. 18, residents took over the proceedings from a facilitator and angrily denounced all of the projects as absurdly out-of-scale for the neighborhood. Tenant leaders used a megaphone, demanding a delay in the process to allow for a more thorough community outreach campaign. A large number of people walked out, declining to take part in a planned discussion over potential environmental impacts of the projects. Later, the developers rejected the request to push back a “scoping meeting” for the environmental review until December.

In the past few days, we’ve spoken with some of the key players in the Two Bridges community engagement process. What follows is a look at where it’s headed and what they hope will be accomplished at the next meeting.

The developers understand that many people in the neighborhood have only one priority: stopping these projects from moving forward. But the development firms obviously have no intention of walking away from lucrative developments that they believe city zoning ordinances allow them to build. So they’re trying to refocus the conversation on the details of the environmental review.

Their consultant, Karp Strategies, has prepared summaries of the first two meetings and posted them online. The documents reference the protests that occurred, but emphasize the specific concerns voiced by community members about the impacts of the proposed projects. Some of the issues detailed in the summaries:

  • Gentrification & displacement: Impact of the projects on a low-income neighborhood
  • Affordable housing in the developments: How rents and eligibility will be determined
  • Access to affordable food as the neighborhood continues to gentrify
  • Affordability of retail spaces in the new developments
  • Need for improved F Train service and MTA bus service
  • Overcrowded schools; quality of existing public schools
  • Quality of life during construction
  • Lack of medical facilities
  • Resiliency measures along the waterfront

Tenant leaders in buildings adjacent to the new projects share many of these concerns. At the same time, however, they are wary of a process that they fear might not result in any real neighborhood protections.

Marc Richardson of the Lands End I tenant association, said his residents want to see some specific issues addressed. They want the developers to detail the income requirements in their “affordable” units. “These projects will totally change the character of our community,” he added. “It’s going o be a more economically hostile environment (for low- and middle income households). That’s got to be dealt with.”

Pretty much everyone engaged in the process is frustrated that more substantive talks haven’t taken place. Stakeholders formed a community task force, but meetings of that group have not been very fruitful. Recently, tenant groups in the neighborhood met with the development teams directly. Richardson said those initial conversations were productive.

Another tenant leader, Trever Holland of Two Bridges Tower, agreed that a small amount of progress has been made in recent conversations. But he said people continue to have “serious reservations” about the scale of the new projects. The towers are all three to four times the height of anything else in the neighborhood (with the exception of Extell development’s massive tower on the former Pathmark site). “We feel we still have many things to discuss before any of these proposals moves forward,” said Holland.

The upcoming meeting is the last public session before the city’s official environmental review gets underway. The public scoping meeting to decide what issues will be covered in the environmental review is scheduled for April. City Council member Margaret Chin has been helping to coordinate the work of the task force, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. During an interview earlier this week, her spokesman, Paul Leonard, said Chin has always believed her role is to,”empower the task force and to ensure that the community’s voices are heard.”  Leonard said the Council member hopes people at Saturday’s meeting will, “get down to business” and focus on “what can be done to help the community.”

 

Tenant Leaders in Two Bridges Area Are “Disappointed” After Bid For Delay is Rejected

Leaders in the Two Bridges neighborhood read a statement during an environmental review meeting Jan. 18.

Leaders in the Two Bridges neighborhood read a statement during an environmental review meeting Jan. 18.

As we reported yesterday, three development teams planning large-scale projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood have rejected a request from residents for a delay in the environmental review process. The request was made by residents in a contentious meeting held Jan. 18. This morning, tenant leaders from buildings adjacent to the development sites are out with a new statement, which is critical of the developers’ decision. But they also pledged to stay engaged with an ongoing community planning initiative.

The statement was sent to us by representatives of each building located in the Two Bridges Large-Scale Residential Development Area. These buildings include: Lands End I, Lands End II, Two Bridges Tower and 286 South St.

We are very disappointed by the developers decision to not extend the period of time that the community will have to discuss the impacts of these massive developments which will more than double the population of residents in the two block area affected prior to the official scoping hearing. This additional time would have been for the community to have its own discussions to ensure we’re all sufficiently made aware of what’s being proposed. Citing the limits of the law is no consolation and does not give residents of Two Bridges any confidence that these developments will provide any additional housing that is truly affordable. There is nothing stopping developers from being specific about what affordable means, yet in two community engagement meetings they’ve failed to be specific. There has been no real effort to address the issues raised by residents in the Two Bridges community who are adamantly opposed to these developments citing, gentrification, overcrowded subway stations, already scarce parking, excessive building heights, neighborhood character, displacement of senior citizens, etc. We frankly disagree that it would be counterproductive to delay as this position presumes that the only discussions regarding these developments and their potential impacts would only need to involve direct engagement with the developers and their agents; we frankly need this additional time to discuss impacts within the community and with our representatives.  We remain engaged and will continue to advocate for more comprehensive and inclusive engagement which allows for the fullest expression of the Two Bridge community.

JDS Development Group, L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group and the Starrett Group are all planning towers ranging in height from 62 to 79 stories. Along with local elected officials and tenant leaders, they have been participating in a joint environmental review. Two public meetings have already been held and a third is scheduled for early March.

 

Developers in Two Bridges Area Decline Request to Push Back Environmental Review

Rendering shows huge new towers dotting the East Side waterfront.

Rendering shows huge new towers dotting the East Side waterfront.

In a statement released today, the developers of three large-scale projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood are declining a request from residents to delay an environmental review in the area.

The request from tenant leaders came during a raucous meeting held Jan. 18. The developers have been participating in a series of public input sessions leading up to the official start of a joint environmental review. The residents said the process is moving too quickly to provide “meaningful feedback.” They wanted to see a “scoping meeting” for the Environmental Impact Statement pushed back until at least September (it’s currently planned for April).

The three projects include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group, twin 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 developers say a stretched timetable would be “counterproductive” because it, “will only delay the ability of community residents to access and review the kind of detailed information that they have asked for in order to evaluate the projects.”

Here’s the statement, which was provided to The Lo-Down a short time ago:

Over the past several months, we have participated in a formal community engagement process with residents of the Two Bridges neighborhood to discuss three new mixed-income rental housing projects proposed by our respective organizations. This process stems from an August 11, 2016 determination by the Department of City Planning (DCP) that all three projects should be considered in a single Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in order to understand how together they may affect the neighborhood and how such impacts can be addressed. We committed to conducting three community meetings prior to starting the formal EIS process, and one additional meeting once the process is underway. The first meeting was held on December 15, 2016 and the second on January 18, 2017. The third meeting will be held in March, and the fourth meeting will take place at a later date.

Jan. 18 meeting, Two Bridges environmental review.

Jan. 18 meeting, Two Bridges environmental review.

During the January meeting, residents took over the proceedings. While tenant leaders took turns reading portions of their statement, others denounced the development teams and the city. A majority of those in attendance walked out. In spite of the negative reaction from many, developers say they remain committed to the process:

To our knowledge, the current process is an unprecedented effort to provide community members with information regarding environmental review and providing an opportunities for input from local residents. These meetings are not required by law or regulation. They  are in addition to the public hearings and meetings required under City procedures that will take place once the EIS process begins. To make the process as productive as possible for participants, we engaged a professional facilitation firm   We believe that the process has been constructive, and a strong interest has shown by community members to engage in these discussions. Through these meetings, we learned a significant amount about the issues and priorities of neighborhood residents in areas ranging from housing affordability to schools to open space. Participants also asked for greater clarity on how these issues will be studied and addressed, and for the results of  analyses.

In their statement, the developers argue that the community engagement process is not a hasty one, as tenant leaders allege:

The EIS process begins when the Department of City Planning issues a Draft Scope of Work solicits public comment at a Scoping Meeting. The purpose of a Draft Scope of Work is to describe the proposed projects, the impact categories that will be studied, and the study areas and methods that will be used. The issuance of a Draft Scope of Work in no way reflects a decision to approve a project. The analyses that flow from the Final Scope of Work after the Scoping Meeting will produce the detailed information that community members have requested, such as data regarding school seats, usage of the East Broadway F Train station, traffic conditions, open space utilization, and the projects’ approach towards sustainability and flood resiliency measures, among others. In addition, it is only once Scoping has taken place that the agencies (MTA/Transit Authority; Departments of Transportation, Environmental Protection and Parks and Recreation; School Construction Authority) can weigh in and assess any mitigations in their purview.

Finally, they conclude:

At the January 18 meeting, a group of participants requested that we delay the Scoping Meeting from April to September 2017. As discussed above, however, moving the Scoping Meeting to September will only delay the ability of community residents to access and review the kind of detailed information that they have asked for in order to evaluate the projects. Further, there will be many opportunities for community involvement once the EIS process begins. The preparation of a Draft EIS following Scoping will take four to six months. It will likely take several more months for the results of the Draft EIS to be reviewed, including through public hearings held by the Community Board and the City Planning Commission, and for a Final EIS to be issued. We are committed to engaging with the local community throughout this process. For these reasons, we believe delaying the Scoping Meeting would be counterproductive. We remain committed to the current engagement process and encourage all members of the Two Bridges community to attend the next scheduled community meeting in March.  To further support these ongoing discussions, we have also posted a more extensive questions and answers document on our website at www.twobridgeseis.com.

Now it’s up to residents in the Two Bridges area to decide how they’ll respond.  We’ll be following up with them today.

UPDATE 2/7/2017 You can read a statement from tenant leaders here.

HUD Supports Relocation Plan For Seniors in Two Bridges Building; CM Chin Voices Outrage

Rendering of proposed tower at 247 Cherry St., as shown at a late April community meeting. SHoP Architects.

Rendering of proposed tower at 247 Cherry St., as shown at a late April community meeting. SHoP Architects.

We have new information this afternoon about the potential relocation of senior residents to accommodate the construction of a thousand foot rental tower in the Two Bridges neighborhood.

JDS Development Group has publicly acknowledged that it might be necessary to move some tenants of a low-income senior housing complex at 80 Rutgers Slip. Plans call for the tower at 247 Cherry St. to be built over the senior building. The Lo-Down has learned new details about the proposal as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request filed in early January. The documents we obtained show that the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development offered its support for the plan in a letter dated Dec. 15.

The new revelations were not warmly received by City Council member Margaret Chin, who told us this afternoon, “I am outraged that this senior relocation plan has been given HUD support without any consultation with elected officials, the community or even the seniors that will have to suffer the impacts of this proposed building that will be constructed over their homes.”

The senior building is owned by Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. The not-for-profit organization and its partner, Settlement Housing Fund, sold development rights to JDS last year, making the new residential project possible. One-quarter of the apartments, or 155 units, will be set aside as affordable housing.

In a November letter to HUD, Two Bridges President Victor Papa and Settlement Housing President Alexa Sewell explained that it could be necessary to relocate the tenants of up to 19 apartments. Nine units, “which will have one window obstructed by the tower,” would be off-line for 12 months while full renovations take place. “Windows will be modified to maintain legally required light and air,” the letter stated, and full apartment renovations would occur. Ten additional apartments would be permanently taken off-line. JDS would provide replacement apartments in its new tower for those units. These 10 units for seniors would be in addition to the 155 rent-regulated apartments designated in the tower.

247 Cherry St.. Rendering by SHoP Architects.

247 Cherry St.. Rendering by SHoP Architects.

Two Bridges emphasized that it might not be necessary to move any residents. As vacancies occur, apartments are not being rented. “We are confident,” wrote Papa and Sewell, “that we will have enough vacancies in the senior building by construction start (in approximately two years) that we will not have to permanently relocate any current tenants into the new tower.”  Any temporary relocations would be accommodated in two neighboring buildings (Two Bridges Tower and Lands End II). JDS has agreed to make up the difference in the rent between the senior building (a Section 8 property) and the temporary housing units.

The letter stated that, in the absence of JDS’s plan, it would be impossible to create affordable housing in, “this high cost, high opportunity neighborhood.” Other advantages of the proposal were cited, including flood protection measures for the senior building, new laundry rooms on each floor, lobby renovations and new retail.

“Based on the information provided to us,” wrote a HUD administrator, “our office is in support of this development plan.” HUD will require a formal request when the final plan is in place.

Council member Chin has been working closely with Two Bridges and with JDS to address community concerns regarding the project. It’s one of three-large scale developments coming to the immediate area. In a statement provided to The Lo-Down today, Chin did not mince words:

This week, in response to repeated requests for information on the senior relocation plan, a representative of Two Bridges/Settlement Housing Fund responded to my office that they didn’t ‘have anything written.’  That response, we now know, was completely untrue. Furthermore, this communication between Two Bridges/SHF and HUD shows that the development team has, on numerous occasions, deliberately misled residents about the senior relocation plan for 80 Rutgers. Today, I plan to make my opposition known to HUD, Two Bridges/SHF, and the development team, and to focus on community priorities and ways to achieve those priorities by any means necessary.

Contacted regarding the Council member’s statement, Victor Papa said a meeting has been in-the-works to detail for Chin and others a relocation work plan. Public meetings and meetings of a community task force, he said, are helping to focus the not-for-profit groups on what needs to be done to address the concerns of senior residents. The plan, he said, can’t be shared until it is complete. Papa said Two Bridges is working “carefully and deliberately” to make sure the construction of the new tower impacts the senior tenants as little as possible.

A spokesperson for Chin told us a short time ago that some written materials regarding the plan had been forwarded to the Council member’s office late today.

See below for the documents made available to us from HUD.

UPDATE 2/2/2017 Here’s a statement we received from a HUD spokesman:

HUD has not issued any formal approval to relocate residents at the Two Bridges Development. Should a formal request be necessary, HUD will conduct a thorough and complete review prior to approval. Our staff look forward to working with Councilwoman Chin, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, and community residents as we move forward.

two bridges 1 two bridges 2 two bridges 3 two bridges 4

hud response 1

hud response 2

 

Do you have an opinion about this story? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.