Last week’s community meeting to discuss the impact of three large-scale residential projects in the Two Bridges area was a contentious affair. A majority of those present walked out in the middle of the session Jan. 18. It’s still not completely clear how the local engagement process will move forward. We’ll have a story about that in the near future. In the meantime, however, we’re sharing the substance of an open letter delivered from residents to the developers and city officials. It was read by tenant leaders at the meeting. The developers promised a response within a week.
The residents want to push back the timetable for a “public scoping meeting” to shape the upcoming Environmental Impact Statement. It’s now scheduled to take place in the spring. Here’s their argument for a delay:
We are writing you to express our concerns about the relative short period being afforded to our community in order to be informed and provide meaningful feedback about the 3 massive developments planned within a two block area in our back yard. We believe that real Community Engagement requires an authentic process that sincerely seeks to glean community expression; anything less and people come away feeling used. We believe that effective community engagement takes tremendous time and resources to be done effectively and the benefits far outweigh the costs. Expression that once collected and hashed out to a degree can be focused to shape if not outright stop development that we do not feel suits the community’s needs.
During the summer, the city rejected a request from City Council member Margaret Chin for a full land use review in the Two Bridges area. Instead, the Department of City Planning and the development teams agreed to what’s been called an “enhanced Environmental Impact Statement.” A community task force was established and several community meetings scheduled. But the residents say the developers’ efforts fall far short of what’s required to ensure true local engagement:
…many people in the Two Bridges Community simply do not trust this hasty process… or the people (who are employed by the developers to conduct open engagement meetings). Additionally, we appreciate the efforts of those involved with adopting an ‘Enhanced EIS’ process and to the extent it was meant as a genuine attempt to enhance community engagement we hope you’ll recognize that this letter is in that same spirit. Regretfully, due to the crammed nature of the process and the evolving nature of organizing community sentiment we were unable to express our misgivings with sufficient consensus earlier in the process which we believe is further evidence of a need for more time.
The residents have demanded that the scoping meeting be pushed back until “at least September.” They are also asking elected officials to schedule more public events in the weeks ahead, “aimed at developing community expression, whether that can be leveraged to shape the EIS analysis or to rally opposition…” They concluded: “We want you (the developers and our elected officials) to rectify this otherwise muddled outreach and help us keep our community from being effectively destroyed.”
The three projects in the environmental review include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group, twin towers from L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group at 260 South St. and a 62-story building by the Starrett Group at 259 Clinton St. Taken together, they will add more than two-million square feet of mixed-use development and over 2,700 new apartments to the immediate area. This is on top of Extell’s 80-story luxury condo tower on the former Pathmark site, which is not part of the environmental assessment.
An online petition has been started in support of the residents’ demands. 125 people have signed so far. Last week’s meeting was attended by a wide variety of community activists. The tenant leaders in the Two Bridges neighborhood did not plan the walkout.