Last night, Community Board 3 and city planners took the SPURA show on the road. A fairly large group of residents from the Grand Street cooperatives attended a briefing at the Educational Alliance on a two-year-old initiative to finally redevelop an infamous 7-acre parcel near the Williamsburg Bridge.
Although CB3 has been working on a consensus plan for two years, this session was their first foray outside the committee room and into the community-at-large. Given the strong feelings about the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, no one was quite sure what to expect. But the presentation, coordinated by the Seward Park Co-op, was strictly informational. Organizers implored participants to withhold their opinions about the project and, for the most part, they complied.
Using power point graphics and maps, city officials gave an overview of the site, which is made up of 5 parcels in the original urban renewal area, and another five lots that were added to the redevelopment portfolio in the last few years. David Quart, of the Economic Development Corp., emphasized that the city does not have a lot of preconceived notions about what should be built on SPURA. He said it’s up to the community to decide, collectively, what it wants. Quart added, however, that the city expects the project to be financially self-sustaining (and not dependent on public subsidies).
During past SPURA battles, development plans have unraveled over the issue of affordable vs. market rate housing. Some neighborhood activists argue that 2000 units of low-income housing were lost when the the Seward park site was condemned in 1967, and never replaced. But in remarks following the city briefing, CB3 member Joel Kaplan said this is a myth. Kaplan, a Grand Street resident and executive director of the United Jewish Council, said more than 1200 affordable units have already been replaced on the original urban renewal site.
Yori Yanover, editor of the Grand Street News urged the city to devote at least part of the site to open space and asked, “where did the city receive a mandate to sell the parcels to a developer?” Quart replied, “this is why there’s a community process. If the community decides it doesn’t want to develop the site, that’s a viewpoint…. if that’s the case nothing will happen.”
A few residents complained that they were not made aware of the SPURA deliberations earlier. One woman wanted to know why residents of public housing projects were not invited to last night’s meeting. CB3 leaders said they had been specifically invited to brief co-op residents, but they would be open to talking with other groups in the neighborhood. They referenced three forums held last week by GOLES, the affordable housing organization.
CB3 chair Dominic Pisciotta urged residents to attend next week’s task force meeting to express their opinions about SPURA and find out more about the process. It will be held Wednesday night, at 630pm, at P.S. 124, 40 Division Street.
Last night, City Councilmember Margaret Chin was in the audience to observe the presentation. Afterward, several residents grilled her about what she’d like to see happen on SPURA. While acknowledging her longtime support for more affordable housing, Chin made it clear she was not about to spell out her own views before the community has had its say.