“Follow the law.” That was the battle cry from local residents and tenant organizers this morning outside the offices of the Department of City Planning. The agency is now evaluating proposals for three gigantic towers that developers are seeking to build in the Two Bridges area.
On Friday, attorneys for the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center fired off a letter to City Planning Director Marisa Lago. It called on her to overturn a decision from her predecessor, Carl Weisbrod, one year ago that circumvented a full community and City Council review of the Two Bridges mega-towers. If the buildings are approved as part of a “deficient process,” the letter warned, our clients (local tenants and two not-for-profit groups), “will exercise their right to seek judicial review.”
A joint environmental review is now underway for the towers, which include a 77-story building from JDS Development Group at 247 Cherry St.; 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. The building sites are all be located in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area. Last summer, city officials rejected a request from City Council member Margaret Chin for a full land use review (ULURP) in the Two Bridges neighborhood.
The attorneys, represented today by Paula Segal, allege that the decision from the agency reflected a faulty and illegal interpretation of the city’s zoning resolution. They say that no new development can occur in the LSRD without new special permits, and no permits may be issued until the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (UPURP) is completed. The department, the attorneys argued, used an irrelevant section of the zoning resolution in finding that the new projects only amounted to a minor modification of the LSRD. [Read the full letter at the end of this story.]
Today’s event was led by Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and the CAAAV, organizations working with local residents. The Urban Justice Center is representing the two not-for-profit groups, TUFF-LES (a coalition formed by tenant associations in the Two Bridges area) and the Lands End 1 Tenant Association. They were joined by representatives of Council member Chin and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez. At a rally held last month, Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer first threatened a lawsuit if the city refused to reconsider the ULURP request.
“The DCP is trying to push this project through using a process that circumvents the law and democratic procedure,” said GOLES organizer Jessie Ngok. “Community members have a right to weigh in on the impact to their neighborhood. DCP should not silence them.”
Chin, Brewer, Velasquez and Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou sent a separate letter to City Planning today. “Time and again,” they wrote, “we have looked to the Department of City Planning to provide the proper pathways for approval in this process, and to ensure that a thorough and transparent public review would occur.” They added, “We believe there are strong legal arguments against directing the developers to submit ‘minor modifications,’ and enthusiastically support the efforts of our constituents for a full review of these proposed changes to the LSRD…”
In the past, City Planning officials have insisted that, “the modifications sought for the Two Bridges sites do not trigger a ULURP” and that, “there are no grounds under which a ULURP could legally be required.” They have argued that the environmental review offers local residents ample opportunity to raise concerns about the new projects.
Earlier today, City Council candidate Christopher Marte appeared with community members in the Two Bridges area. He is one of three challengers trying to unseat Margaret Chin in the Sept. 12 Democratic Primary. In a prepared statement, Marte reiterated charges he’s levied in the past, saying Chin should have done more years ago to stop rampant development. “Today she is rallying outside of DCP,” said Marte, “to protest towers that wouldn’t even have been imagined if she had supported the community-based rezoning plan (as envisioned by the Chinatown Working Group). Today she stands with those who have been on the front line of this fight for years. It is right that she is there for her constituents. But it is too little and it is too late.”
Also appearing at the Marte rally was Tanya Castro-Negron, tenant association president at Lands End II, one of the developments that would be most impacted by the new projects. Castro-Negron is part of a group called Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON), which first raised questions about City Planning’s alleged mishandling of the Two Bridges projects back in May. “Today Margaret Chin and her supporters are protesting DCP,” said Castro-Negron, “with the same challenge made by the LESON group… They are asking LESON and the community to support their action but would not (support) the community’s efforts presented months ago.”
We went into great detail regarding the political back-and-forth over the Two Bridges projects in an earlier story. You can read it here. In short, Council member Chin has stated that she could not have unilaterally approved the Chinatown Working Group Plan, since the support of the City Planning Commission is required. DCP has called the zoning proposal excessively broad.
The Department of City Planning will likely not vote on the Two Bridges proposals until the end of this year. A lawsuit would not occur until that vote happens.
Editor’s note: The original version of this story indicated that City Council candidate Christopher Marte appeared with supporters in the Two Bridges area to criticize Council member Chin. It was later brought to our attention that not all community members appearing with Marte are supporters of his candidacy. The story has been changed to reflect this fact.