SPURA 42 years in the making: Hoping for more than parking lots
A CB3 committee planning the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) resumes deliberations Monday night with a "brainstorming" session about general design principles. This afternoon, David McWater, the committee chair, told The Lo-Down there will not, as some members hoped, be a briefing from city planners. In a phone conversation, Mcwater explained how he intends to get back on track after a tense exchange during last month's meeting of the Land Use, Housing and Zoning Committee.
On November 17th, McWater threatened to suspend the SPURA talks, suggesting some members of the committee seemed more focused on agitating their constituencies than working together on a redevelopment proposal. He cited a vigil and protest where influential panel member Harvey Epstein urged affordable housing activists to start coming to community board meetings. McWater also referenced a flare-up at October's meeting, in which a group with ties to St. Mary's Church on Grand Street erupted in anger after learning a presentation by city planners had been
Damaris Reyes, executive director of the affordable housing organization, GOLES, told us several days ago that, while she remains committed to the process, she is concerned about the attitude about "particular residents" in the community. She said they should not be seen as disruptive just because they want to be involved. McWater said he's not discouraging community involvement. He said, given the acrimony that's enveloped every effort to develop the SPURA parcels in the past 42 years, it's too early for "40 people from one group to march into a meeting."
McWater said the conversation Monday night will focus on issues like open space, design parameters and whether it makes sense to rezone SPURA, five parcels adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge. He wants to build some trust and demonstrate that the group can work collaboratively. Then, at the end of the process, the committee will take up the contentious issue of how much low, moderate and market rate housing will be built. McWater said the city wants the community to drive the discussion and has no interest in becoming entangled in a dispute among feuding factions in the neighborhood. He added, however, that his decision not to reschedule the briefing canceled in October, is unrelated to any misgivings the city might have about the events of the last two months.
McWater said he's willing to have the committee review SPURA Matters, a community survey conducted by several neighborhood organizations and released in September. At last month's meeting, Damaris Reyes of GOLES expressed disappointment that he had not looked at the report or scheduled time for a presentation of its findings to the panel. The SPURA Matters coalition is holding a briefing next week, at which time the Spanish and Chinese versions of the report will be released (there will also be a new English version). It will be held Thursday at 7pm at 189 Allen Street, University Settlement.
The CB3 committee meeting is 630pm Monday at the Cooper Union Foundation Building – 7 East 7th Street (north of Peter Cooper Park) – Peter Cooper Suite – 8th Floor (west elevator).