Community Board 3’s land use committee last night voted in favor of the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Plan, but no one was in much of a mood to celebrate the occasion. After three years of deliberations, a divided panel excoriated city officials for “betraying their trust” by rejecting several key community priorities. Now the focus turns to next week’s full board meeting, where all 50 members will be asked to support the city’s land use application for a 7-acre site that has languished for four decades.
We’ll have a detailed report later, but here are the basic details from last night’s tense meeting. City Council members Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez addressed the committee before deliberations got underway. They urged CB3 to approve the city’s land use application and vowed to fight for the things missing from the proposal in the months ahead. The Council must approve the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) document; the community board’s opinion is not binding but crucial nonetheless. “Vote tonight based on your courage and commitment, not on your fear,” Chin advised.
But in the end, 9 out of 24 committee members rejected the plan (one member did not vote), which would create 900 units of housing and up to 600,000 square feet of commercial space. CB3 has objected to several omissions in the proposal, including allowances for “big box” stores, a guarantee that Essex Street Market vendors would be financially compensated if/when the current market is demolished, the creation of a new school and promises regarding local hiring. But last night their overriding concern was the city’s refusal to offer permanently affordable housing on the Seward Park site (the affordable units would remain affordable for only 60 years).
CB3’s Harvey Epstein, who has grown increasingly frustrated with the city in recent months, said “You screwed us… You stopped being our partner. That’s why I have to say no.” Herman Hewitt, a longtime community board member agreed, saying the city had once again proven it can’t be trusted.
David McWater, the committee chairman, said he felt blindsided by the city’s last minute decision to reject CB3’s demand for permanent affordability. But he pleaded with committee members to approve the plan. A no vote could doom the proposal, prompting the city to walk away from three years of painstaking negotiations, he warned. McWater asked his colleagues to have faith in Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and the City Council, who will weigh in on the Seward Park plan after the community board votes.
Dominic Berg, CB3’s chair, also urged members to vote yes. In the past several weeks, he has been in intensive talks with city officials. Following those talks, the city agreed to create a task force made up of community members and City Council representatives to help, among other advisory functions, establish criteria for selecting developers. The agreement, Berg said, would assure that the community has a robust role in shaping the Seward Park project long after next week’s vote.
Following last night’s meeting, Berg said he’s confident the full board will approve the land use application, but he’s hoping for more consensus in the days ahead. Berg added that the committee is united on the key issues; the split has occurred over strategy — how far to push the city, how to get the things the community has already said it wants from the Seward Park project.
Community Board 3 will meet next Tuesday, May 22, at Henry Street Settlement, 301 Henry Street. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.
It was always going to end this way no matter what was on the table.
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