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Residents Speak Out Against New Towers at 260 South St.

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Community meeting at the Shuang Wen School Dec. 1, 2016.
Community meeting at the Shuang Wen School Dec. 1, 2016.

We broke the news last night that L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group are planning to build a huge residential building at 260 South St. Also last night, people who live in a neighboring complex, 265-275 Cherry St., were invited to an auditorium at the Shaung Wen School to hear details about the project. Here’s a recap of that meeting.

As previously reported, the developers intend to put up two towers, the larger one topping out at almost 800 feet. There could be up to 1350 apartments, 25% designated as permanently affordable. The development site is a parking lot used by 265-275 Cherry St., a Section 8 complex known as Lands End II. L+M and CIM Group purchased the 490-unit affordable property three years ago. They are promising to build new parks and playgrounds, a new community room, new retail and flood protection measures for the existing residents. But none of these things mattered to tenants last night in comparison with this: 100 apartments in Lands End II will be losing their East River views as part of the new development.

260 South St. massing

There was an audible gasp in the audience as the slide you see posted here flashed up on a big screen. It shows the 68 and 62 story towers dwarfing the existing 26-story buildings. Charles Torres was one of the first to speak up. He lives with his aunt at 265 Cherry St., although her apartment faces north rather than towards the river.  “The height of this building is extremely high,” he said. “We look minuscule compared to this building. We are losing this view… The people who have been here for so long — that’s all we have. Your buildings will have the views, not us.”

A woman who declined to give her name said she lives in a “beautiful apartment” that faces the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge and the East River. She told members of the development team that they’re, “taking away a view we’ve had for over 40 years. I don’t want more trees because you’re blocking the sun anyway. We don’t need a bigger grocery store.” The woman said the time had come to mobilize her community against the project. “If you’re telling us that now is the time to go back home,” she said, “and talk to our families and talk to our neighbors to get everyone out here Dec. 15 (when another community meeting will take place), then that’s what needs to happen.”

Alex Kafenbaum of the CIM Group led last night’s presentation and Katherine Kelman and L+M fielded a series of pointed questions from residents. Kafenbaum noted that, “This area was planned for high-density development 30 years ago,” and that building on the parking lot site is inevitable. The project is utilizing more than one-million square feet in unused development rights. If L+M and CIM Group were to sell the site, they explained, some other developer would come along. A few years ago, there were plans for a 16-story senior housing center and health facility on the site.

260 south st. rejected scheme

Kafenbaum showed residents an alternative scheme, which was rejected, featuring a single building stretching across the development site. While it wouldn’t have been as tall as the towers now being planned, the new structure would have completely blocked light and air from the river, leaving the existing park and playground in shadows. They touted all of the improvements planned at 265-275 Cherry St. “We’re approaching this new building,” said Kelman, “as an opportunity to make significant improvements to the whole block which would not otherwise be possible.”

Residents wanted to know whether they have the power to stop the project from moving forward. Kelman told them that the proposal is subject to an enhanced environmental review and approval by the City Planning Commission. Over the summer, city officials rejected a request from City Council member Margaret Chin for a ULURP (public land review process) in the Two Bridges area. As an alternative, the Department of City Planning agreed to a more robust evaluation of neighborhood conditions prior to approving to plan at 260 South St. and two other large-scale projects. But unlike a ULURP, the enhanced environmental review does not require City Council approval.

As the meeting drew to a close, the tenant association chairperson at Lands End II rose to assure residents that they “have a voice” in the process.  Tanya Castro explained that a task force was set up with representation by all of the tenant leaders along the waterfront.  She explained, “The resident leaders speak on your behalf. We were just waiting for this presentation, for all of you to see it. We can now go back to the residents and ask. ‘What do you want?’ You do have a voice. You do have protection.”

The first public meeting to discuss the environmental review will be held Dec. 15 at 6:30 p.m., at Gouverneur Health, 227 Madison St.

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