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.

IMG_4693

IMG_4690

Photo by Daisy Paez

Photo by Daisy Paez

IMG_8845

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.”

IMG_7773

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.”

IMG_7771

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.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 2.36.03 PM

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

IMG_7593

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.

Frame-02-10-2017-10-36-03

 

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.