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City Hiring Consultant to Work with Community on SPURA Plan

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Photo by A Jesse Jiryu Davis

There were signs this week that the painstaking community-driven process to come up with a development plan for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area may finally be picking up speed.  In a presentation before Community Board 3, city officials outlined a four month process, beginning in April, designed to produce a consensus proposal. To assist with the delicate negotiations ahead, the city has agreed to hire an urban planner and facilitator,  who will work intensively with CB3’s SPURA task force.

The committee has been deliberating for more than a year, laying out the general principles they hope will guide the redevelopment of 10 city-owned parcels near the Williamsburg Bridge. City planning officials have been sitting in on some of their meetings, and have been available to answer questions and provide information. But up until now, they have not been actively involved in guiding the process.

Now they seem prepared to play a more central role. Monday night, David Quart of the NYC Economic Development Corp. proposed hiring an urban planner named John Shapiro, the chair of the Pratt Institute’s Center for Planning and the Environment. Shapiro served in a similar capacity during the equally contentious redevelopment of the Cooper Square Urban Renewal Area several years ago. Back then, the New York Times reported Shapiro had been hired to do “conflict resolution with various factions.” City officials did not use that term this week, but that’s essentially what he’s being brought in to do again.

During Monday’s presentation, Quart also laid out a suggested timetable for completing the process. It calls on CB3 to approve a plan by the end of the summer, to hold public hearings in the fall and to forward the proposal to the city, so that an exhaustive environmental review can begin. Next would come the land review procedure, requiring approval of the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Finally, the city would issue a “Request for Proposals,” inviting developers to bid on the project.  If all goes according to plan, it’s possible that could occur bt early 2012.

Monday night, there was also some insight on the city’s thinking about financing the project from Holly Leicht, deputy commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development. City officials are working on the assumption that no government subsidies will be available to help pay for things like community facilities and affordable housing. But acknowledging the desire for “community amenities,” Leight indicated the SPURA parcels could be sold “below market rate.” In other words, the city appears amendable to giving developers a relatively good deal in exchange for providing things the community wants. She added, “we’re probably not talking market rate but we’re not talking about selling the land for a dollar either.”

In the end, CB3 agreed the “next steps” proposed by the city make sense. They also agreed to dedicate one meeting each month (through July) to the SPURA issue. We’ll have more about that schedule later.

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