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The City’s SPURA Plan Allows For “Big Box” Stores; Apartments Would Not Be “Permanently Affordable”

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David Quart, EDC senior vice president, outlines ULURP application at last night’s public meeting.

A little more than a year after Community Board 3 approved its planning guidelines for the Seward Park redevelopment site (SPURA), the city last night finally detailed how much of the proposal it is willing to embrace.  At a meeting of CB3’s land use committee, officials with the NYC Economic Development Corp., and other agencies, outlined the land use (ULURP) application they intend to move through the public approval process in the next several months.

In short, the draft plan adopts CB3’s general framework for a mixed use/mixed income development, but the city has omitted several priorities spelled out in the community board guidelines.  We’ll have an in-depth report on Monday, but here are the basics:

  • The Seward Park Project, on nine parcels adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge, will be a mixed-use development consisting of 1.65 million square feet. It will be 60% residential, 40% commercial.  There will be 900 apartments — 50% market rate, 50% affordable.  The apartments will remain in the city’s affordable housing program for 60 years. CB3 wanted them to be permanently affordable. Last night, Borough President Scott Stringer spoke at the hearing, imploring the city to commit to permanent affordability.
  • In the commercial spaces, there could be a hotel, a movie theater and (in opposition to CB3’s guidelines) big box retail.  David Quart, EDC senior vice president, acknowledged that the community board wanted to limit retail businesses to a maximum of 30,000 square feet. But he said it is not “sustainable” to create a project in which all of the retail consists of small stores. A project of this size, he argued, must have an “anchor tenant.”  Quart said the idea is to attract a good mix of retail businesses – some small, some large – offering a diversity of products at various price points.
  • The city signaled a strong desire to move the Essex Street Market to the south side of Delancey Street, demolishing the current market building and constructing a mixed use complex in its place. The ULURP application will leave open the possibility of keeping the market in its current location. But EDC Executive Vice President Alyssa Konon made it clear the city wants a new market facility.  In a new complex, the city would retain ownership of the Essex Street Market, rather than transferring oversight of the public market to a private developer/operator.  The city has not committed to paying relocation expenses for current vendors (something the community board has urged the EDC to do).
  • There will be a 10,000 square foot park on site 5, along Broome Street.
  • The Seward Park complex will include 500 underground parking spaces (replacing all of the existing parking now available to the community on the development parcels and adding around 100 new spaces).
  • The city is rejecting the portion of CB3’s guidelines calling for a new public school in the Seward Park project.  EDC officials indicated that the Department of Education does not see the need for another school in the neighborhood, in spite of persistent concerns from parents about overcrowding.

Following the meeting, we asked CB3 Chair Dominic Pisciotta how he felt about the city’s proposal.  He called it a “mixed bag.”  Praising city agencies for adhering to many of the community board’s principles, Piscotta added that he has concerns about several issues, including: permanent affordability of the residential units, allowances for big box stores, the siting of a public school and relocation support for Essex Street Market merchants.

What’s next? CB3 Committee Chair David McWater said there will be a town hall meeting at April 18th, in which members of the public will be able to speak out about the Seward Park plan.  By that time, the application will be “certified into ULURP,” and the public review process will have formally begun. The Community Board expects to vote on the application by the end of May. The city hopes to issue RFP’s (requests for proposals) early next year.

Again, we’ll have a more detailed report Monday. In the meantime, check out our previous SPURA coverage here.


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  1. LES public schools are the most underutilized in NYC. They have far too many seats, not too few. It’s a relic from 100 years ago when everyone lived in tenements and had 10 kids.

    How could the Community Board not know this? They’ve closed many schools, while reorganizing many others to attract students from outside the neighborhood. What is the point of Community Board input if they are so clueless about the local community?

  2. And what about the Essex Street Market? How can the EDC completely disregard the strong public opposition to moving it?

  3. I love when I here that, let’s keep all these small smelly bodegas that rob us…. I love the Cities thinking, we will be getting a Big Box store…. So deal with it!

  4. We’d love to know where you get your info, UWS 1000-
    it sounds out of date to me. When I look at the enrollment and utilization report by the DoE’s School Construction Authority, I see a very different set of data. In 2010-11 by district school building utilization rates in Manhattan are as follows:D1=88%D2=94%D3=93%D4=81%D5=78%D6=89%http://www.nycsca.org/Community/CapitalPlanManagementReportsData/Enrollment/2010-2011-BB_CS_M.pdfThe real issue is SCA’s chronic refusal  to collect and respond to accurate and complete enrollment projection data  and spend the money to provide adequate capacity and facilities to NYC public school children. As  David Quart of the Economic Development Corp has said in public:
     “Today Community District 1 schools have some capacity, have some 
     available seats. Community District 2 schools are, for the most part, 
     at capacity. We did some preliminary analysis, we spoke with the 
     School Construction Authority and looking at projections, the numbers 
    don’t pan out that the numbers themselves justify a need for a school 
     in this area. It’s not only taking into account what’s happening with 
     existing schools but also demographic trends and even with the 
    addition of the Seward Park site would not trigger the need for a new 
     school. That said, the SCA, Department of Education updates their 
     numbers every year. That could change. But currently the SCA does not  have money in its budget for a new school in this area. So what I can  say as far as the community planning process, as you think about a  school, consider the context, the framework in which people work in  as far as trade-offs.” Anyone who pays attention to the issues knows how overcrowded D2 schools are- and how many new schools the district has been awarded recently, as a result. However the DoE and SCA still manage to spin the data to make it sound like there is no need for more schools in D2, either.for example:http://www.downtownexpress.com/?p=4398 Additionally even by the DoEs’ own projections,

    District One is just behind District 2 at the top of the list of projected  Highest Percent Gains in school enrollment from 2008-2018.D1 +21.3%
    D2 +21.6%

      How many opportunities will there be in the next 6 years to address this projected growth and build the infrastructure our children and schools need?Wasting the opportunity to build a new school as part of this project will have long term effects on our community and its future for a long time to come.

  5. Yah those local family-owned bodegas and ma and pa stores…

    …where if I forget my wallet they let me pay later.
    …order me anything I want if they don’t have it.
    …give me free stuff all the time because I’m a loyal customer.
    …know my name, my girlfriend’s name, and ask how my Mom is doing.
    …know my order before I even walk in the door.

    Yah, down with those! 

  6. I think an anchor tenant, commercial or institutional, is critical for the success of the CB3 consolidated plan.

    Removing the restriction on permanent affordability in the end will encourage a better group of developers, designers and commercial interests.  There is more than enough permanent public assisted housing in this neighborhood and its time for the LES to be more balanced, like the west side so that it can evolve beyond “projects”.

    The Essex Market should stay, but be IMPROVED!  Replace the brick wall with glass, add floors above, and remove the diagnonal geometry that stifles an efficient use of the space.  Complement this by reopening the south market building with the same improvements.  There is no reason a development cannot occur ABOVE the existing buildings.  We have the technology.

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