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More on Today’s City Council Approval of the SPURA Plan

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A view of the Seward Park parcels, looking south from Delancey Street. Photo by Vivienne Gucwa.

Believe it or not, the Seward Park redevelopment plan (SPURA) has finally made it through the city’s arduous land use approval process.  We just returned from City Hall, where the New York City Council voted 48-0 in favor of the proposal to remake the 1.65 million square foot site 45 years after thousands of homes and businesses on the parcels were bulldozed in the name of urban renewal.

There are many hurdles still to be cleared.  But just about any superlative (historic, monumental, unprecedented) applies to the accomplishment that seemed so unlikely just two years ago.  Work has already begun to prepare a request for proposals (RFP) for the project, which calls for one-thousand apartments and a large amount of commercial space on nine plots of land near the Williasmburg Bridge.

Next Tuesday night, city officials will go before Community Board 3 to outline the RFP process.  A community task force will be formed to help craft the document and to review proposals once they have been submitted.  The RFP will go out in January.

At today’s meeting, Speaker Christine Quinn praised the community board as well as local activists for working so hard to overcome differences that made redevelopment of the parcels impossible for so many years.  Noting that City Council member Margaret Chin won a number of concessions from the city earlier this month,  Quinn added, “she drove a very hard bargain” and came away with a good deal for her community.  Councilman Leroy Comrie, land use committee chairman, quipped, “she may be small but she’s stronger than all of us.” Working with fellow Lower East Side Council member Rosie Mendez, Chin persuaded the city to increase the number of housing units from 900 to one-thousand, and to provide more affordable housing on a site on Spring Street. She also got  an agreement to set aside space on the Seward Park site for a new public school.

In remarks before the vote, Chin said she would have liked more affordable units but “compromise was necessary if we wanted to move forward.”   Alluding to strong opposition in past years to more low income housing on the Lower East Side, she said, “50% (affordable) is not bad and it’s permanent.”

In the balcony above Council chambers, local residents, community board members and city planning officials awaited the vote.  Tito Delgado, whose family was forced from the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area in 1967, was among the most euphoric.  A member of the CB3 panel that worked out the Seward Park compromise, he acknowledged more affordable housing would have been ideal. But Delgado added, “I’m speechless.  It’s a great victory for us because we’re still here (on the Lower East Side). We must celebrate the small victories.”

Former CB3 Chair Dominic Berg, who along with land use committee chairman David McWater, nurtured, cajoled and sometimes threatened the community board panel until there was a deal, said it was a victory he thought he’d never see.  Berg called the passage of the Seward Park plan a huge accomplishment for the community that could serve as a model in other neighborhoods dealing with difficult land use issues.  In a statement, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “the plan approved by the City Council today is one that is responsive to the needs of all stakeholders and is the culmination of years of hard work and community input. I look forward to seeing this project move forward and to the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in the rich, diverse history of the Lower East Side.”

Not everyone was pleased with today’s outcome. JoAnn Lum of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, said the vote “ignored the will of the community.”  Saying her organization had collected 8,000 signatures from people who want 100% affordable housing, she added, “it’s an insult to the people of this community.”  Lum added that the coalition would continue the fight and she vowed to “hold elected officials accountable.”

The mayor must officially sign off on the plan, but that is assured.  He has five days to act. CB3’s land use committee meets to discuss the Seward Park RFP next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Project Renewal, 333 Bowery.

Here’s the complete rundown of changes in the Seward Park plan negotiated by Council member Chin:


Full List of Council Modifications/Commitments from City (notes from Council member Chin’s office):

100 more units added to SPURA (following breakdown of 50 percent affordable and 50 percent market rate).

  •  Total number of units at SPURA site: 1000
  •  Total numbers of affordable units: 500
  • 30 percent of units for low income individuals/families making less than $40,000 annually (including 10 percent of low income seniors)
  •  10 percent for middle income/families
  • 10 percent for moderate income individuals/families

Commitment from City for HPD-issued RFP for lot adjacent to 21 Spring Street to be developed as affordable housing.

The City will reserve 15,000 square feet of space of Site 5 of the Seward Park Project until 2023 for development as a potential public school.

Community Taskforce

  • Prior to releasing the RFP, the City will meet with a Task Force designated by the Community Board to discuss their goals, including, but not limited to, preferences about ground floor retail uses.
  • Task Force will review the final RFP goals and selection criteria prior to City’s release of the RFP.
  • One of the selection criteria will be that the Task Force preferences will be considered in the final selection.
  • Upon receipt of developer proposals, the Task Force will receive summaries of the RFP responses from the City.
  • The City will discuss the proposals with the Task Force, and the Task Force will provide feedback to the City on which proposals meet the community goals.
  •  This feedback will be formally considered as part of the selection criteria.
  • Prior to final selection, the City will discuss the proposed selection with the Task Force.

City and Council Member will use Best Efforts to identify former site tenants.  Former tenants will be given preference for units for which they income-qualify within the Community board marking preference category for the affordable housing units.

Essex Street Market, if a new Essex St. Market facility is built:

  • It will remain a public market
  • Vendors at the existing building will be given first opportunity to relocate to the new market facility and be offered comparable square footage.
  • The rent schedules and planned increases in the new market facility for existing vendors will be commensurate with his or her rent at the time of the move.
  • NYCEDC will pay all reasonable moving-related expenses.
  • The existing market will continue to operate until any new space is ready to accept vendors, and NYCEDC will help vendors through the transition.
  • If the SPURA project does not include a new Essex Street market, then the market will remain in its existing building.

Encouraging Local Development Partners and Multiple Respondents: Preference will be given to proposals that include a Local Partner; defined as a locally-based organization or entity that has a history of improving the quality of life for Community Board 3 via social services, cultural activities, financial investments, and/or housing.

Multiple Level of Housing Affordability:  Preference will be given to proposals that provide, within the prescribed income bands, lower income levels, at multiple tiers.

M/WBE Participation: Respondents will be required to submit M/WBE Utilization Plans in their responses.

Local Hiring:  The RFP will emphasize local hiring by requiring each respondent to include a HireNYC program plan. Preference will also be given to respondents who emphasize permanent jobs for individuals hired from the local area who make below 200% of the poverty level, as well as plans to retain and provide advancement for these employees.  Specifically, respondents will be encouraged to focus on the following goals:

  • Hiring Goal: fill 50% of all new permanent jobs created in connection with hires from the local population who are making below 200% of the poverty level
  • Retention Goal: retain 40% of these hires for at least 9 months
  • Training Goal: provide future advancement within a year for at least 30% of these hires

Preference will also be given to those proposals that include skills-training and higher education opportunities for tenants.

Storefront Requirements:  The City shall deem any proposal that does not conform to the storefront requirements, as adopted by the Council, as non-responsive.

  • Sets a minimum of 3 storefronts on Broome (sidestreet) and 2 storefronts on Delancey Street (avenue).
  • This means the City cannot grant a waiver to supersede Council regulations.


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