They are widely seen as an eyesore and a shameful reminder of long-simmering neighborhood feuds. But the five parking lots occupying the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) also serve a purpose. There are about 500 spaces – many used by local residents and businesses – that would be lost if the parcels are redeveloped.
The dilemma obviously pales in comparison to the contentious issue of affordable housing – which has divided the neighborhood for a generation. But last week, this was the seemingly mundane topic of conversation, as the Community Board 3 committee coming up with a grand plan for SPURA resumed its deliberations. In spite of a strong desire by some members to discuss housing, David McWater, the committee’s chairman is holding firm to a strategy of dealing with relatively uncontroversial matters first.
The parking lots in question stretch across five blocks east of Essex Street, below Delancey. Some of them are operated by the LES Business Improvement District, which counts on the revenue for its operating budget. Others are run by the city’s Transportation Department and the Department of Housing Preservation & Development. There are also about 350 spaces in a municipal parking garage north of Delancey. While this parcel is not technically part of SPURA, the city has decided to include it in the redevelopment plan.
Committee members agreed all of the spaces will need to be replaced with underground parking. They pointed out that, in fact, additional underground spaces would likely be needed for a large number of new residents and, possibly, for shoppers visiting new businesses.
The thorniest issue centered around the fate of numerous spaces used by businesses for truck parking. David Quart of the Economic Development Corporation, said there are about 125 spaces for commercial parking. He cautioned the committee that it would be prohibitively expensive to accommodate large vehicles underground. Committee members agreed there should be no surface parking lots on the SPURA parcels.
There was some concern about the impact on local companies of eliminating the commercial spaces. It wasn’t completely clear how many neighborhood businesses park in the lots vs. businesses from outside the immediate area. In a quick survey this past weekend, it was apparent many of the trucks are owned by companies on the LES and surrounding neighborhoods (Chinatown, Soho, East Village).
Still ahead for the committee: discussions about the role of cultural facilities and other community spaces. Once there is a consensus on basic urban design issues, McWater said, the committee would take up the potentially explosive housing debate. He believes this strategy will enable the community to have a less-emotional, “more-informed” conversation. Back in 2003, the city shelved a proposal to redevelop SPURA, in the face of vigorous community opposition. That plan called for building 300 units of low-income and 100 units of middle-income housing, along with commercial projects.