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City Council Panel Advances Bill That Could Help Curtail ‘Two Bridges’ Mega-Projects

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Margaret Chin at a meeting of the City Council's land use committee; Oct. 31, 2017. Photo via CM Brad Lander's Twitter.
Margaret Chin at a meeting of the City Council’s land use committee; Oct. 31, 2017. Photo via CM Brad Lander’s Twitter.

The land use committee of the City Council this morning unanimously approved local Council member Margaret Chin’s legislation aimed at fast tracking certain applications before the City Planning Commission. The proposal is part of a larger effort to curtail three mega-towers in the Two Bridges area.

On Oct. 12, Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer submitted a request to City Planning for a zoning text amendment. It would require developers to obtain a special permit and to undergo a full land use review. Separately, Chin proposed a bill that would allow elected officials to skip the city’s arduous pre-application process when filing land use applications. In the Two Bridges area, time is of the essence, since the Department of City Planning is now evaluating the three massive projects on the waterfront.

The land use committee voted in favor of the legislation today, in spite of opposition from City Planning and from the Real Estate Board of New York.

Rendering shows Extell's 80-story tower in the Two Bridges area, as well as three proposed towers now under review by the City Planning Commission.
Rendering shows Extell’s 80-story tower in the Two Bridges area, as well as three proposed towers now under review by the City Planning Commission.

In a hearing held last week, Chin complained to city officials that they can hold up applications for a year or more. She said a speedy review is essential on the Lower East Side, where the “community is under attack” from over-development. ‘We just want a fighting chance,” explained Chin, who called for transparency and a meaningful role for local communities when large projects are planned.

Anita Laremont, City Planning’s general counsel, pushed back, saying the pre-application process identifies potential problems with applications and leads to a more orderly review. Laremont added,  “I would point out that we have already scheduled a meeting to discuss your application. We are committed to working with elected officials.” 

Chin responded that the meeting is only happening because she proposed the “fast-track” legislation.

There was also testimony from Michael Slattery of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). He called the bill, “an assault on as-of-right development.” Slattery said, “I didn’t know that those (real estate) investments that create jobs and tax revenue are such an attack on communities.” 

Before today’s vote, Chin referenced REBNY’s objections. “I couldn’t agree more,” said Chin. The legislation “is a threat to as-of-right development.” Chin said she’s seen enormous buildings rise in her district with no public review. “If REBNY is threatened by this legislation, good!” She said it’s not the Council’s job to represent real estate developers. 

The new projects in the Two Bridges area include JDS Development Group’s 1,000-foot tower 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 rental buildings would add about 2,700 apartments to the area — 75% market rate/25% affordable.

City Planning rejected a request from Chin last year to subject the projects to a ULURP, which would have required City Council approval.  DCP ruled that the buildings amounted to “minor modification” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Development Plan.

We are, of course, in teh final days of a contentious City Council election. Chin has been under fire from her opponents for acting too slowly to fight the development projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood.

UPDATE 6:49 p.m. The full City Council approved this legislation today. In a statement, a spokesperson from City Planning said:

As the Department of City Planning testified, we believe that the pre-certification process provides value to applicants, to decision makers in the public review process and to the public. We wish to emphasize that City Planning will, as required by the City Charter, continue to ensure that applications are complete and provide sufficient information to enable public review.


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