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High Anxiety on Grand St., SPURA at Critical Phase

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Photo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis.

You don’t need a crystal ball to predict it’s going to be a pivotal month for SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. After two-and-a-half years of deliberations, Community Board 3 plans to vote on detailed guidelines for the redevelopment of the 7-acre parcel, a site that has languished for 43 years.

In some corners of the neighborhood, at least, anxiety about breaking the long deadlock is rising. In the January edition of the Grand Street News, longtime co-op manager and resident Heshy Jacob expresses outrage that the city might sell the SPURA parcels to developers for something less than their full market value:

Based on his conversation with the CB3 taskforce facilitator John Shapiro, Jacob believes the City plans to sell SPURA to developers for a mere $60 million. It makes his blood boil. “The four Co-op Village corporations pay more than $20 million a year in real estate taxes, as well as for water, sewer, etc. That amount is going up this year, by at least $1.5 million. So while everybody in Co-op Village will be getting an increase on their real estate taxes, the City will be selling a property worth $300 million for $60 million. “At a time when Mayor Bloomberg is laying off teachers and closing down fire houses, how can he afford to lose $240 million?” Jacob pushes his point. “The Mayor is committing a criminal act, giving away these millions to developers, while across the street the Seward Park Cooperative is going to pay $7 million in taxes for this year.

In a separate editorial, Grand Street News editor Yori Yanover laments the lack of participation from people who “believe there’s enough housing, low- and high-income, in this densely populated neighborhood.” And he urges co-op residents to lobby Sheldon Silver, the neighborhood’s most powerful political figure, to block CB3’s proposal:

…your opponents in this debate show up in great numbers. The Good Old Lower East Side, which promotes maximizing low income housing in our neighborhood, fills up the room. And the SHARE group shows up—those nice men and women from Seward Park Housing who believe in living in harmony with professional political organizers… With this level of interest on your part, dear readers, get ready for SPURA buildings on your street, because they’re coming. In order for your powerful Assemblyman to work for you, he needs to hear that from you. If you’re silent on this matter, Silver is not going to fight City Hall without a vociferous constituency behind him.

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  1. Here’s hoping for a rational and productive debate going forward. And I also hope that Grand Street’s intentions are guided by a spirit of tzedakah and tikkun olam.

    As for selling the parcels below market-rate: The only non-luxury alternative to this method is full-on public development of the site. This is something that the most hidebound Grand Street factions have opposed ferociously in the past — even though the co-ops themselves were partially financed by the State in the beginning.

    So it’s clear that the argument against selling the plots below market-rate is a smokescreen for the oldest right-wing arguments on SPURA — that the land shouldn’t be developed to benefit the working families of the neighborhood because “they already have enough.”

    The working families of the Lower East Side are doubled and tripled up in various forms of affordable housing — housing stock we are losing every day. Of course, the old Grand Street shareholders remember what an amazing day it was when they paid $5000 down to live forever on the Lower. Why deny an experience like this to other Lower East Siders?

    Developing SPURA to benefit working and moderate-income families is a crucial first step in addressing the Lower’s housing crisis — a crisis that drags us all down and takes too much rent money out of all of our pockets.

    GOLES looks forward to an honest and respectful public debate with every interested Lower East Sider on the vital question of SPURA’s future.

    -Joel Feingold
    Land-Use Organizer

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