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SPURA Task Force Makes Headway

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We’ll have our usual blow-by-blow account from Community Board 3’s SPURA task force meeting in a day or two.  In the meantime, here’s a quick update from tonight’s session at P.S. 124 on Division Street.

The committee finally took up the big issue dividing the community: what types of housing should be built on the redevelopment site adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge.

Urban planner John Shapiro sketched out a scenario for the 7-acre parcel, based on the wishes of community leaders and (perhaps more significantly) financial realities.

Given the city’s insistence that the development pay for itself, Shapiro suggested about half of the project should be devoted to commercial uses — medium box stores, an expanded public market, perhaps a movie theater, community spaces. On the other half, there’s room for around 900-1000 apartments.  In order to be economically viable, Shapiro said no more than 50% of those units could be set aside for low income and middle income residents.

There were some pointed questions from task force members about the particulars: why tax credits and federal funds could not be utilized to pay for more affordable housing, how CB3 could be assured the city will carry out its wishes, etc. But for the most part, the discussion was very civil.

On one hand, it appears committee members are more amenable to compromise than in the past. But also, no one seemed anxious to move beyond the financial discussion to a more free-flowing debate about the Lower East Side’s future. Some members believe the task force should honestly discuss big issues SPURA embodies: gentrification, affordable housing and the changing character of the neighborhood. But given the angry, racially tinged shouting matches that have characterized SPURA talks in previous decades, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for this kind of melee.

Shapiro noted City Councilmember Margaret Chin has already endorsed the SPURA process. He urged committee members to reach out to other elected officials (who he did not name) — with the goal of getting them engaged in the redevelopment campaign.

Although tonight’s session was supposed to be the final facilitated session, city officials announced Shapiro would be coming back next month to continue working with the committee.

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