A third meeting will take place this coming Saturday for the upcoming environmental review in the Two Bridges area. The first two sessions, held in December and January, were contentious affairs. It’s anyone’s guess what the third gathering will bring.
The developers of three proposed projects are taking part in a joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). These meetings are part of an enhanced public process they agreed to participate in, along with local elected officials. The projects include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 62 ad 69 story 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.
Saturday’s meeting, being described as an “open house,” happens Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadway.
At the most recent public gathering, Jan. 18, residents took over the proceedings from a facilitator and angrily denounced all of the projects as absurdly out-of-scale for the neighborhood. Tenant leaders used a megaphone, demanding a delay in the process to allow for a more thorough community outreach campaign. A large number of people walked out, declining to take part in a planned discussion over potential environmental impacts of the projects. Later, the developers rejected the request to push back a “scoping meeting” for the environmental review until December.
In the past few days, we’ve spoken with some of the key players in the Two Bridges community engagement process. What follows is a look at where it’s headed and what they hope will be accomplished at the next meeting.
The developers understand that many people in the neighborhood have only one priority: stopping these projects from moving forward. But the development firms obviously have no intention of walking away from lucrative developments that they believe city zoning ordinances allow them to build. So they’re trying to refocus the conversation on the details of the environmental review.
Their consultant, Karp Strategies, has prepared summaries of the first two meetings and posted them online. The documents reference the protests that occurred, but emphasize the specific concerns voiced by community members about the impacts of the proposed projects. Some of the issues detailed in the summaries:
- Gentrification & displacement: Impact of the projects on a low-income neighborhood
- Affordable housing in the developments: How rents and eligibility will be determined
- Access to affordable food as the neighborhood continues to gentrify
- Affordability of retail spaces in the new developments
- Need for improved F Train service and MTA bus service
- Overcrowded schools; quality of existing public schools
- Quality of life during construction
- Lack of medical facilities
- Resiliency measures along the waterfront
Tenant leaders in buildings adjacent to the new projects share many of these concerns. At the same time, however, they are wary of a process that they fear might not result in any real neighborhood protections.
Marc Richardson of the Lands End I tenant association, said his residents want to see some specific issues addressed. They want the developers to detail the income requirements in their “affordable” units. “These projects will totally change the character of our community,” he added. “It’s going o be a more economically hostile environment (for low- and middle income households). That’s got to be dealt with.”
Pretty much everyone engaged in the process is frustrated that more substantive talks haven’t taken place. Stakeholders formed a community task force, but meetings of that group have not been very fruitful. Recently, tenant groups in the neighborhood met with the development teams directly. Richardson said those initial conversations were productive.
Another tenant leader, Trever Holland of Two Bridges Tower, agreed that a small amount of progress has been made in recent conversations. But he said people continue to have “serious reservations” about the scale of the new projects. The towers are all three to four times the height of anything else in the neighborhood (with the exception of Extell development’s massive tower on the former Pathmark site). “We feel we still have many things to discuss before any of these proposals moves forward,” said Holland.
The upcoming meeting is the last public session before the city’s official environmental review gets underway. The public scoping meeting to decide what issues will be covered in the environmental review is scheduled for April. City Council member Margaret Chin has been helping to coordinate the work of the task force, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. During an interview earlier this week, her spokesman, Paul Leonard, said Chin has always believed her role is to,”empower the task force and to ensure that the community’s voices are heard.” Leonard said the Council member hopes people at Saturday’s meeting will, “get down to business” and focus on “what can be done to help the community.”