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(Exclusive) JDS Development/SHoP Reveal Plans For 77-Story Two Bridges Tower

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247 Cherry St. as seen from the East River, alongside Extell's Two Bridges project. Rendering by SHoP Architects.
247 Cherry St. (right) as seen from the East River, alongside Extell’s Two Bridges project (left). Rendering by SHoP Architects.

Extell’s 80-story luxury condo project in the Two Bridges area is getting some high profile company. The JDS Development Group and SHoP Architects today are announcing plans for a 77-story mixed-use tower at 247 Cherry St. The site is next door to Extell’s One Manhattan Square.

The new residential and retail complex will be built on property currently owned by the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Settlement Housing Fund. The Lo-Down was briefed on the proposal yesterday by JDS CEO Michael Stern; Gregg Pasquarelli, a founding partner of SHoP; Alexa Sewell, president of Settlement Housing; and Two Bridges President Victor Papa.

During the briefing, held at Stern’s office near Union Square, the developers offered a first look at plans to be unveiled at two meetings scheduled later today for residents of nearby buildings. They’re envisioning about 600 rental apartments in the dramatic tower, approximately 150 of which will be set aside as permanently affordable units (25% of the total).

Back in 2012, Little Cherry Development, LLC agreed to purchase a parcel, known as 235-247 Cherry St., from Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Settlement Housing Fund. A one-story building on the site was once home to the Pathmark Pharmacy. But the $4 million deal fell apart, and Little Cherry sued the not-for-profit groups for alleged breach of contract. That lawsuit has not yet been resolved.

The property owners now say they’ve come up with a solution that isn’t dependent on the courts. JDS and SHoP have agreed to purchase around 500,000 square feet of development rights from the organizations for $51 million. The project is being accomplished by demolishing a small community center on Cherry Street, nestling the 900-foot tower alongside an existing senior housing building and cantilevering a portion of the new construction over the old pharmacy property. The footprint for the tower will be about 9,000 square feet.

247 Cherry St.; courtyard area. Rendering by SHoP Architects.
247 Cherry St.; courtyard area. Rendering by SHoP Architects.

“We’ve been talking to Settlement Housing and Two Bridges for quite some time,” said Stern, about figuring out a way to unlock their unused development rights and “to create some new affordable housing… We were able to come up with a very innovative plan with SHoP Architects to achieve that.”

In recent years, JDS Development has become one of New York City’s biggest players. Stern’s company is building the American Copper Buildings on the East River waterfront, at 35th Street, featuring 761 rental apartments. Also in the pipeline are a luxury condo tower measuring 1427 feet on West 57th Street and a 73-story residential project in Downtown Brooklyn. JDS has worked with SHoP on all of these projects.

While the design isn’t quite finished, Pasquarelli said it will feature a terracotta brick and glass exterior.  “There is a real dedication by the development team to doing a high-quality facade.” he explained. There will be some outdoor terrace spaces in the middle of the building and a top floor amenity space will be set aside for use by all building residents. On both Cherry Street and Rutgers Slip, there will be room for ground floor retail. SCAPE Landscape Architecture has been hired to develop a publicly accessible plaza area surrounding the new building, as well as other green spaces.

Little Cherry and Extell Development currently hold long-term leases in the single-story building. When those leases are up, the old structure will be demolished and more retail will be created on the west side of the new tower. Ultimately, 10,000 square feet of commercial space is planned, although  there will be only 3,500 square feet in the first phase of construction.

The rentals will include a mix of studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments. Unlike the neighboring Extell project, which includes a separate affordable building, the affordable units in the new tower will be dispersed throughout the project. In other words, there will be no “poor door.”

“We think it is the better model of affordable housing,” said Stern.

Two Bridges Senior Apartments, 80 Rutgers Slip.
Two Bridges Senior Apartments, 80 Rutgers Slip.

As part of the agreement with the not-for-profit groups, the developers will pay for renovations in the senior building. They include flood-proofing the property, a new lobby, upgrades to other public spaces and establishing emergency backup power. There will also be a new 4600 sq. foot community center for the senior residents in the new tower; it will be accessible from the senior building. Two Bridges Neighborhood Council will have an office alongside the community center.

Alexa Sewell of Settlement Housing Fund said the project is appealing to her organization “because it allows us to bring more affordable units to the neighborhood.” While the developers are paying $51 million, she said not all of that will go to the two not-for-profit groups; investors and lenders must be paid. The money Settlement Housing and Two Bridges receive, she explained, will be used to, “better capitalize our organizations — so that we can get out and continue doing the kind of affordable housing and community development work that we do.” As for the pending lawsuit, Sewell said she is, “100% certain we are going to prevail in it, so we’re moving ahead with this plan.”

Victor Papa said he’s proud of the key role Two Bridges played throughout the 1970s and 1980s in establishing almost 1500 low- and middle-income apartments in the neighborhood. The new agreement, he believes, adding 150 more apartments, is a major accomplishment. “There is no more space on the Lower East Side to develop affordable housing,”  to replace units that have been lost in recent years, “except this (project), which makes it very attractive for us to do.” Two Bridges was part of a Chinatown Working Group plan, which would establish height caps in this particular area. But Papa noted that his organization never supported height limits. It “would have limited our ability to build affordable housing,” he said.

Extell site; view from Pike Street.
Extell site; view from Pike Street.

There has, of course, been a big backlash against Extell’s 80-story tower, from community members who object to both the project’s massive scale and its role in gentrifying a predominantly low-income area. There is no doubt that the new tower will also be hugely controversial.

Assembly member-elect Alice Cancel tells us she objects to the scale of the building and would like to see zoning restrictions put in place to block it. State Sen. Daniel Squadron has not been briefed as of yet due to scheduling conflicts. But a spokesperson for his office said he’s already hearing significant concerns from local residents. City Council member Margaret Chin reviewed the proposal recently. Chin’s spokesperson said she’s eager to receive feedback from community members about the plan.

All of the elected officials will be getting an earful from residents who live in Two Bridges Tower, an adjacent residential building at 82 Rutgers Slip. Trever Holland, tenant association president, said he understands the need for more affordable housing, but argued, “We cannot just stack more buildings on top of each other and disregard the need for air, light and space… We cannot allow developers to dictate the terms with regards to development on the waterfront. Within a few years we are going to lose the waterfront to private luxury development.”

Another resident, Minyu Zhou, said, “It’s ridiculous that Two Bridges Neighborhood Council is literally helping to drive us out. Do they have any respect at all for the residents in this area?” Grace Mak added, “We urgently need the Department of City Planning to set and restrict a height zone for this area; otherwise we’ll lose our beloved community.” Elaine Hoffman said, “I don’t think it’s right since we have so much construction going on here already, just on this block.”

The developers note that more big changes are coming to the East River waterfront. Large-scale projects are expected from L+M Development, on a a parcel at 265-275 Cherry St., just to the east of the new project site. The Starrett Corporation is also believed to be making plans for a new project on a site it owns in the area. Taken together, the new developments will likely create at least 3,000 new apartments in the Two Bridges neighborhood.

“This particular zone is not one of the more densely populated areas of the city right now,” argued Stern. “Interestingly, though, there is a pretty good transportation infrastructure, retail infrastructure in the general area to support it, so it’s actually a very appropriate place for density. I think that’s why you see the underlying zoning that’s there (which supports high density).”  Stern also noted that his firm has a lot of experience working with local communities to “mitigate the impacts” of construction. The developers will be working with Two Bridges and Settlement Housing to communicate early and often with the local community, he promised.  For Victor Papa’s part, he said, “We’re going to go and talk to whoever wants to hear this presentation. We’re going to be transparent and open about it.”

So what’s next? After today’s meetings, Stern said the development team will be focused on winning approval from the Department of City Planning for a “minor modification” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Development Plan. JDS Development is hoping to access tax incentives for the affordable housing portion of the project. The State Legislature has so far failed to reinstate the 421a tax abatement program. “We’re confident that some version of it will come back in this development timeline,” said Stern. Construction is not expected to begin for at least two years.

Stern said he’s proud of what his firm, SHoP and the not-for profit groups have been able to achieve. “We see it as a model of responsible development moving forward,” he explained. “Take an under-utilized affordable housing asset and get some value out of it, create new affordable housing and create capital to preserve affordable housing and (generate) positive ripple effects wherever you’re building.”

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