Locals last week finally got their first look at renderings for the initial phase of Essex Crossing, the large residential and commercial project coming to the former Seward Park urban renewal site. Today we’re taking a closer look at a key issue that came up during the unveiling before Community Board 3’s land use committee: the developers’ decision not to provide any parking as part of the complex.
Delancey Street Associates, the consortium in charge of the project, originally envisioned creating just under 100 spaces beneath site 5 at the intersection of Grand and Essex streets. But during the meeting, project manager Isaac Henderson said those plans were abandoned due to concerns about congestion and pedestrian dangers in the area.
The only place to put a parking entrance, he explained, is on Clinton Street, a heavily trafficking route to the Williamsburg Bridge. There will be a loading zone in this same area and there’s already a bike lane there. Henderson said members of a community task force advising developers agreed the site is a bad location for a parking facility. The community board has been working with the city’s Department of Transportation for several years to make the thoroughfare safer.
There are about 500 parking spaces spread throughout the six-acre development site, all of which will eventually be eliminated. The Suffolk Street parking lot on site 5 is already largely closed. Two other lots – on sites 1 and 6 – will shut down in the not too distant future to make way for Essex Crossing’s phase 1.
In 2011, the community board approved planning guidelines calling for the replacement of all 400 public spaces, while sacrificing another 100 slots for commercial vehicles. In the Seward Park land use application, the city pushed through zoning changes to allow underground parking on four sites.
But as Henderson pointed out the other night, the Request for Proposals (RFP) only stated that developers could choose to create up to 500 underground spaces; it did not require any parking. Site 5 was the only option for underground parking because a key component of Essex Crossing is a small-scale concept called the Market Line, which will be built in the lower levels of sites 2, 3 and 4.
At the meeting, speakers said they were worried about the impact of eliminating 500 spaces in a neighborhood that already has a parking shortage. Nancy Ortiz, tenant leader at the Vladeck Houses asserted, “it’s going to create a severe impact. (Parking) is not a luxury. It is a necessity.” Tim Laughlin, executive director of the LES Business Improvement District, also questioned the decision. The BID operates two of the parking lots for the benefit of local merchants. The organization stands to lose a significant amount of revenue when the lots are closed, although this would have been the case even if the developers had chosen to build new underground parking.
Parking resources as well as broader transportation issues were looked at in an environmental review conducted back in 2011, in preparation for the Seward Park land use application. Working on the assumption that 500 spaces would be replaced, engineers calculated the new project would bring an additional 257 cars to the area during peak hours. But they concluded that the overflow could be handled by other parking facilities located within a quarter-mile of the site. They estimated that there were no fewer than 375 empty spots in nearby lots at any given time.
Essex Crossing will include 1,000 apartments and a number of destination retail and entertainment attractions, including an expanded Essex Street Market, a 14-screen movie theater, a bowling alley and an annex of the Andy Warhol Museum.
Not everyone is unhappy to see the number of parking spaces reduced on the Lower East Side. New York City, they argue, must wean itself from auto dependency. This was a point made a couple of years ago by Streetsblog, after the city signaled its intention to allow underground lots at Seward Park:
Building additional automobile storage would inevitably mean more cars on the already-deadly Delancey Street and more congestion on the already-clogged Williamsburg Bridge. At the same time, four subway lines meet at the corner of Essex and Delancey, offering ample transit access to the site. (The city’s stance) represents a one-way ratchet toward car-dependency. If the number of parking spaces in New York City can only increase, that leaves only two options: an ever-growing number of cars in the city, or acres of costly, unused garages. Neither is an attractive or sustainable future.
It may very well be true that most visitors to Essex Crossing will use public transportation. At last week’s meeting, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said she personally believed it is a good thing to discourage people from driving but that there’s an obvious need to advocate with the MTA for improved bus and subway service to meet growing demands. Members of the community board’s Essex Crossing task force will be looking at transportation issues when they hold their quarterly meeting with developers this week.
At the moment, the development team doesn’t appear to be making much headway with the MTA. It had asked the cash-strapped agency whether it would be willing to create a new escalator from the platform leading directly to the lower level of Essex Crossing’s retail pavilion. Henderson said that request has been rejected for now.
The developers will once again show the new renderings and take questions from members of the public during a forum at Grand Street Settlement Jan. 28. More details here.