Gary Barnett, one of New York’s biggest developers, came to the Lower East Side last night to personally brief Community Board 3’s land use committee on plans for the former Cherry Street Pathmark site. Barnett’s pitch was complete with references to his own LES roots; the real estate tycoon was born and raised just a short distance away from the development site, on Pike Street.
CB3 had expected a broad overview of Extell Development’s plans, including details concerning a proposed 68-story luxury tower that is the main focus of the mega-project. What they got was a briefing on a 13-story, 204-unit affordable building that will sit next to the main skyscraper. Barnett said the plans for the main building are not yet finished.
In a packed community room at the Rutgers public housing complex, Barnett and his team from Extell revealed a few new details that weren’t immediately apparent when documents were filed last week with the community board. Among them:
- The main building will be 60+ stories, but Barnett did not indicate the exact height. Preliminary Buildings Department filings indicated it would be 68 floors. It will be a condo project. He said the apartments would be high-end but “not crazy-priced units.”
- There will be around 800 units in the luxury tower and a total of approximately 1,000 units in the entire complex.
- Residents of Community District 3 will have priority for half of the 204 affordable rental units.
- The project is being designed to meet new “building resiliency” requirements implemented after Hurricane Sandy. The site, located between Cherry and South streets, suffered major flood damage during the storm two years ago.
- There will be two large retail spaces, including a two-level, 25,000 square foot storefront for a full-service grocery store. Barnett said it’s his intention to attract an affordable supermarket to the complex to replace the Pathmark. Due to contractual commitments, Extell is obligated to give Pathmark the option of returning to the site. He asked members of the audience for suggested market operators. There’s also a plan to lease space to a drug store.
- The affordable tower designed by Dattner Architects will have an undulating brick exterior with “large window openings.” There will be wood floors and tile kitchens and baths. Amenities include a 13th floor lounge and a 2750 square foot landscaped terrace. Studios, 1-bedrooms and 2-bedrooms will range in price from $833-1082. Renters will be chosen through a lottery. People making 60% or below Area Median Income are eligible.
- The project will include about 150 parking spaces.
- Management as well as ownership of the affordable property will eventually be handed over to a community-based non-profit organization. That organization has not yet been chosen.
- The construction manager, Lend Lease, will be holding a meeting next week with local residents to discuss concerns about noise and other disruptions during the project, which is expected to span three years or more.
- Due to stability issues on the site (it’s a muddy lot adjacent to the East River), crews will need to dig all the way to the hard rock and lay down pylons for the foundation.
- Barnett said he would like to build another project on an adjacent site now controlled by Settlement Housing Fund and Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. Currently, Extell holds a long-term lease for part of the building on that site (it’s where the Pathmark drugstore was once located). Barnett indicated talks are ongoing with the owners about what might be possible.
Members of the committee and local residents gave Barnett credit for “showing up” in the community rather than sending representatives. But they also expressed a number of concerns about the enormous tower, which is destined to be triple the height of anything else in the Two Bridges neighborhood.
Nancy Ortiz, tenant leader at the Vladeck Houses, objected to the creation of two separate buildings — one for low-income tenants and another for wealthy condominium owners. “At the end of the day, segregation is segregation and that’s what this is,” she said. CB3’s Enrique Cruz, a new land use committee member, agreed, recalling how disappointed the community had been years ago when the Avalon project on East Houston Street was also set up with separate “rich and poor” buildings. Speakers pushed back against Barnett’s claim that mixing market-rate and affordable apartments is financially untenable. Damaris Reyes, executive director of GOLES, pointed out that high, middle and low-income residents will all be interspersed in the buildings at the new Essex Crossing project.
There was a large contingent from Two Bridges Tower, a highrise located next door to Extell’s development site. Residents there expressed a variety of concerns about living in a construction zone for the next several years. “We want to make sure there’s an ongoing dialogue,’ said Trever Holland, the tenant association president. Among the issues raised: security problems surrounding the darkened site, the impact an influx of new residents will have on public transit and schools and the need for local hiring during construction. Tenants also complained that their building has been shaking due to the use of heavy equipment during the demolition phase at the Pathmark site.
Barnett listened intently and responded in detail to almost every question during the hour-and-a-half discussion. On the issue of separate luxury and affordable buildings, he conceded it is a big issue citywide. “It is expensive to build anything” today in New York City, he said, because land and construction costs have skyrocketed. In this particular case, he explained, a mixed building would be 15 stories taller than what’s already being planned and far more expensive to build. “You have to finance this thing,” and he said, “it’s almost impossible to get financing for mixed-use buildings.” Noting that the smaller building would remain permanently affordable (whereas other city programs have time limits), Barnett said, “there are lots of good reasons why these buildings are separate… We would all like utopia,” adding that a quest for perfection in the project could mean nothing gets built at all. He also pointed out that Extell is under no obligation to build an affordable project on Cherry Street. They’re doing it because a tax abatement is available.
Barnett told board members and residents he knows some people think he’s crazy for building a luxury development along the East River, in a predominantly low-income community. But referencing his local ties, Barnett said, “I believe in this neighborhood,” adding that he’s confident the project will enliven the area. “I think I’m the original Lower East Sider,” he quipped, recalling his birth on Pike Street 58 years ago into a large family that “never had any money.” Barnett was candid about his company’s motivations, saying “we are here to make money… but we also want to do something to benefit the community.”
As for security, Barnett said he’s concerned about the situation and noted that one of Extell’s security guards was recently robbed. And on the request for local hiring, he suggested that the project would be using union labor and said he was willing to work with local organizations such as the LES Employment Network. The construction supervisor said he would do whatever is necessary to address noise complaints at the site.
At the end of the evening, community board members said they wanted to see Extell commit in writing to some of the promises made during the meeting. Barnett said it was a legitimate request and indicated that commitments regarding affordable housing and local hiring in particular could be put in writing.
Extell is expected back at CB3 when plans for the luxury tower are ready for public consumption.