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 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 Henry 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

Brewer, Chin Request Zoning Text Amendment to Battle “Two Bridges” Mega-Towers

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

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

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin have filed a request for a zoning text amendment with the Department of City Planning (DCP) that would, if enacted, make it more difficult for developers to build three mega-towers in the Two Bridges area.

The two elected officials made the request of the city agency on Oct. 12 and announced the move this morning via a press release.

Back in July, Brewer and Chin urged the city to order a full land use review of the projects and threatened to file a lawsuit if DCP refused. The agency previously rejected a request from Chin to subject the massive projects to a ULURP, which would have required City Council approval.  DCP ruled that the buildings amounted to “minor modification” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Development Plan. The City Planning Commission is now evaluating a joint environmental review to assess potential impacts of the towers, which range in height from 62-79 stories.

According to the press release, “the draft zoning text amendment… would require a new special permit for certain developments in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Area, to clarify that large, out-of-scale development proposals are not “minor modifications” to this area’s plan and would require public review.”

In a statement, Brewer said, “I have great respect for the professionals at the Department of City Planning, but when you look at the Two Bridges community and the way these massive towers would loom over it, you can’t help but understand that ‘minor modification’ has lost its meaning and we need clearer rules.”

“Since we first heard about these proposed mega-developments,” said Chin, “Borough President Brewer and I have made our demands clear: we need a real, transparent public review process. This year, we are delivering on the promise we made to the Two Bridges community by using every tool at our disposal to make their voices heard. These out-of-scale buildings threaten to displace hardworking residents, bring forth irreversible environmental hazards, and accelerate gentrification, which would endanger the very fabric of the Two Bridges community.”

In a separate move, Chin has proposed City Council legislation that would allow elected officials who submit land use applications to forego the city”s arduous procedures that must be completed before applications move forward.

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 new 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 around 2,000 apartments to the area — 75% market rate/25% affordable.

As we reported yesterday, resident leaders in the Two Bridges neighborhood, along with the advocacy groups GOLES and CAAAV, are proposing a rezoning in the area to curtail the proposed towers. They’ll make their pitch tomorrow night at Community Board 3’s land use committee.

We have reached out to the Department of City Planning for comment.

A spokesperson for the development teams told us this morning that they would have no comment regarding the Brewer/Chin request for a zoning text amendment. The developers did, however, meet recently with tenant leaders in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Area. The developers, tenant leaders tell us, made clear their strong opposition to any changes in the neighborhood’s zoning.

In the recent City Council primary election, Council member Chin faced sharp criticism from her opponents over the Two Bridges development issue. They argued that she only voiced strong opposition to the towers in the final weeks of the campaign. Just yesterday, a group supporting Chin’s chief rival, Christopher Marte, announced plans for a march through the neighborhood on Oct. 25. They are calling on the, “community to unite to unseat City Councilperson Margaret Chin, who has played a key role in robbing the community of its public assets and resources to enrich luxury developers.” An organizer of the march is Tanya Castro-Negron, tenant leader of one of the buildings that would be most impacted by the towers. After narrowly losing in the primary, Marte is challenging Chin in the Nov. 7 general election.

Community Groups Will Seek CB3’s Support For ‘Two Bridges’ Rezoning Wednesday Night

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.

Community activists battling three proposed mega-towers in the Two Bridges area are gearing up for Wednesday night’s meeting of Community Board 3’s land use committee. That’s where they’ll ask the board to support an urgent plan to rezone the East River waterfront to block the unpopular projects.

Here’s the flyer they’re circulating in advance of the meeting, which will be held in the community room at Two Bridges Tower, located at 82 Rutgers Slip. (That’s right next door to the 80-story luxury condo tower being built by Extell Development).

The flyer includes a rendering of all four buildings and asks the question, “Does this belong on our waterfront?” They say the projects from “greedy developers” would trigger, “massive construction work and increased unaffordability, resulting in the displacement of many of our neighbors.”

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The rezoning proposal is being pushed by tenant leaders in the Two Bridges neighborhood, as well as two advocacy organizations: Good Old Lower East Side and CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities. Here’s what they’re asking of the community board:

We — waterfront tenant leaders, CAAAV, and GOLES — ask Community Board 3 and Borough President Gale Brewer to be co-applicants on a 197-c (rezoning plan) and vocally support this endeavor, in order to strengthen our community’s call for long-term protections on the waterfront. Our waterfront needs protections — now! The Extell building is rising above our neighborhood, and three more luxury mega-towers just like it have been proposed by huge real estate developers. If rezoning protections are passed, those companies will have to follow new rules that seriously limit their height of their buildings and mandate permanently affordable housing. These rules will also cover any other sites along the waterfront vulnerable to development, like the Manhattan Mini -Storage site at 220 South St. Rezoning is the best way for our community to both fight the proposed massive luxury developments and guarantee long-term protections for the future of our neighborhood!

Chinatown Working Group subdistricts.

Chinatown Working Group subdistricts.

The rezoning proposal is actually not new. It was part of a sweeping plan released by the Chinatown Working Group, a neighborhood coalition, back in 2014. On Wednesday night, the board will be asked to support fast-track approval of a rezoning for Subdistrict D, which covers the waterfront — from Catherine Street all the way up to East 14th Street. There are currently no height limits in the area, which is why developers may be permitted to build towers thee- to four-times the size of any building currently in the neighborhood. The rezoning would cap heights at 350 feet and require new projects to include at least 50% affordable housing.

Zoning changes of this type must be approved by the City Planning Commission and by the City Council. In the past, the Department of City Planning rejected the full Chinatown Working Group Plan, saying it was too large.  The commission is now reviewing the three proposed projects. City officials have previously signaled they would have a decision by the end of this year.

During the summer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin threatened to sue the city if the projects are approved without a full land use review. In the limited review now underway, the City Council has no role to play in approving or modifying the plans. The Planning Commission has the authority to act on its own.

Some members of the Chinatown Working Group are adamantly against a piecemeal rezoning.  They have always argued it would be unjust to rezone one part of the neighborhood at the expense of others.

The new projects would add around 2,000 mostly market rate apartments along the East River. 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. The developers have promised to set aside 25% of the apartments in their buildings for low-income households.

 

Plea From the Two Bridges Neighborhood: Stop After Hours Construction Noise

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For years now, residents in the Two Bridges area have been forced to endure ear-splitting noise and many other negative effects from the construction of Extell’s 80-story condo tower at 252 South St.

Now they’re also having to deal with another loud project: the scrubbing of the FDR Drive overpass at Pike Street. Trever Holland, tenant association president of Two Bridges Tower, recently fired off a letter to city officials about the situation. Here’s part of what he told representatives at the Department of Transportation and Department of Buildings:

Right now there is a machine underneath the FDR at South and Pike (State DOT), producing a non-stop, tortuous, drone noise at levels that require earplugs. This machine runs seven days a week from dusk till dawn. Extell is constructing its massive 80 story building along with a smaller building at Pike, South and Cherry St. EDC is working on Pier 35 and the waterfront esplanade on South St. DOT, Con-Ed and DEP (and other acronyms) are constantly digging up South, Pike, Rutgers and Cherry street on what seems like a weekly basis. Not to mention the planned Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency work, NYCHA’s Storm Resiliency projects and the five proposed mega-towers for this same two block area. We are calling for an IMMEDIATE suspension of all (after hours work) within this two block radius. We simply need a well-deserved break from this non-stop noise and disruption. There are children in this area who have never seen a peaceful weekend without construction trucks and personnel dominating the neighborhood. We are tired of trying to figure out which contractor is responsible for trash, noise, dangerous truck maneuvers, blocking sidewalks and a host of other SAFETY violations… What we are demanding is reasonable and fair. All (after hours work) should be suspended immediately until there is some sort of meeting to talk about coordination and our quality of life…

The project, overseen by the state Department of Transportation, will be impacting many additional residents. Over the next several weeks, contractors will be moving north in the direction of Montgomery Street.

As Holland mentioned, several large-scale projects have been proposed in the Two Bridges area, meaning that construction noise will likely be a fact of life in the neighborhood for years to come. This past month, Community Board 3 called on government officials to establish a construction command center to coordinate projects on the Lower East Side.

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

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“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.

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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