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As Locals Protest, Developers in Two Bridges Area Float $40 Million Subway Station Upgrade

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Rendering shows Two Bridges waterfront with several proposed large-scale buildings. Credit: SHoP Architects.
Rendering shows Two Bridges waterfront with several proposed large-scale buildings. Credit: SHoP Architects.

As we first reported last week, local residents and elected officials will be gathering this morning to protest the city’s handling of the Two Bridges environmental review process. The Department of City Planning dropped the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for three massive residential projects Friday afternoon, setting in motion a 60-day public review period. The release coincides with Community Board 3’s summer break and is being viewed by critics as a ploy to stifle local dissent.

Meanwhile, the private developers angling to transform the Two Bridges neighborhood are touting their proposed “mitigations,” investments meant to address negative impacts on the community. At the top of the list: improvements in the East Broadway Subway Station, including a new entrance at Rutgers and Madison streets, estimated to cost about $40 million. They’re also proposing upgrades to three local parks in the amount of approximately $15 million.

According to the Draft EIS, the projects are largely unchanged from preliminary plans unveiled by the development teams in 2016. JDS Development Group wants to put up an 80-story tower at 247 Cherry St., which would cantilever over an existing low-income senior building. L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group are aiming to construct 62 and 70 story towers in front of the existing Lands End II residential complex at 260 South St. The Starrett Group intends to wedge a 63-story tower on a small lot it owns at 259 Clinton St.

In total, the projects would add 2,775 rental units to the historically low-income Two Bridges area. 694 apartments (25%) would be designated as permanently affordable, with 200 of those set aside for low-income seniors. The rent regulated units would likely be available to households earning 40/60/120% of Area Median Income). There would be about 11,000 square feet of retail in the projects.

Images from Draft EIS.
Images from Draft EIS.

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The developers have asked for “minor modifications” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Development Plan in order to build their towers. At the request of the city, they are conducting a joint environmental review. Local residents, advocacy groups and elected officials are fighting the towers, which would dwarf anything already in the neighborhood (except One Manhattan Square, Extell’s 80-story condo complex).

City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are pushing for a zoning text amendment to force a full land use review (ULURP). The city has rejected their requests for a ULURP, which would give the City Council leverage over the projects, and allow for more robust community engagement.

In a statement following the release of the Draft EIS, the development teams said, “We are excited about the improvements that would be made across the neighborhood as a result of the proposed projects.” In addition to the subway and park upgrades, they highlighted the addition of nearly 700 below-market rentals, which they call, “one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in Manhattan in decades.” The developers also referenced several public information sessions that were held leading up to the environmental review: 

The process to date has provided multiple opportunities for robust community input, including four productive public feedback sessions. And through a cumulative review of all three projects – informed by those public feedback sessions – we will be committing to investments that will have a genuine and lasting impact. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with elected officials and other local stakeholders and to discussing these substantial upgrades as the formal public review process gets underway.

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The developers are proposing the following mitigations, after consultations with city and state agencies:

–Upgrades to the F Train Station at East Broadway, including a new entrance on Madison Street, expansion of staircases from the street to the mezzanine and the mezzanine to the platform. The station would for the first time be made ADA-accessible (Estimated cost: $40 million).

–At Coleman Playground (Monroe/Pike streets), installation of new turf on the playing field, new lighting, new playground equipment and a dog run (Estimated cost: $14 million).

–At Captain Jacob Joseph Playground (Rutgers and Henry streets) and Little Flower Playground (Madison and Rutgers streets), refurbishment of existing play equipment, new seating, plantings and BBQ pits (Estimated cost: $1 million).

In addition to these measures, the developers plan to create a publicly accessible park along Rutgers Slip (between Cherry and South streets). They envision upgrades to public spaces around their projects, and are proposing resiliency upgrades, including raising landscaped areas above the 100-year flood plain.

These proposed investments are unlikely to sway local residents or the elected officials, who are strongly opposed to the projects. Trever Holland, a tenant leader, said, “What we find particularly disturbing is the blatant attempt by the developers to divide our neighborhood with proposed and targeted offerings. Do they really think that BBQ pits will soften the impact of these four mega-towers? What the developers are trying to do is distract us from the actual impacts by offering these so-called ‘open space mitigations’ in front the actual Draft EIS.” He noted that parks on the periphery of the Two Bridges neighborhood have been slated for improvements, while public spaces (Cherry-Clinton Playground, Pier 42, Pier 35) alongside the impacted buildings will apparently receive no additional funding.

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Local residents are likely to balk at a central conclusion in the Draft EIS — that the big projects, “would not result in significant adverse impacts associated with neighborhood character.” It contends that the towers (featuring 2,000 market rate rentals),  “would not result in significant adverse environmental impacts due to indirect residential displacement.” According to the Draft EIS, 88% of rentals in the study area are under, “rent control, rent stabilization, or other government regulations that protect rents from market influences generated by changes in market conditions.”

The JDS project at 247 Cherry St. would lead to the temporary displacement of 19 residents from a low-income senior building at 80 Rutgers Slip. They would be accommodated in apartments elsewhere in the Two Bridges neighborhood. The developers say they plan resiliency upgrades and renovations of the existing building, including a new 4,600 square foot community center.

The Draft EIS covers many other potential impacts. There’s an acknowledgement that local elementary schools and daycare centers could face overcrowding as a result of the projects, although specific mitigations have not been spelled out as of yet. [We’ll get into more details in a future story.]

Today’s rally (11:30 a.m., Rutgers Slip at South Street) is meant to pressure the city into delaying the public review process. Community Board 3, which has only 17 days to prepare for a hearing on the Draft EIS, sent a letter to the Department of City Planning to express alarm over the tight timeline. [Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer wrote a similar letter].

CB3 pointed out that 31% of Two Bridges residents live in poverty and 75% are people of color. The board wrote:

When these projects were first presented in late-2016, and continuing through 2017, there was ongoing community outreach and dialogue with CB 3. For some reason, this stopped completely and there had been no indication that this application was nearing completion… Given the current timeline, sufficient and robust public review of this project—which will alter the character and demographics of the Two Bridges community forever—is not possible, nor respectful to the community. As a majority community of color with a large immigrant population, aging residents, and a growing gap between the highest and lowest income households, Two Bridges deserves better.

Paula Segal, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center, also voiced her concerns with City Planning [Segal has been working with Two Bridges residents]. In a letter to the agency, she wrote:

The Department must give the public and the community board at least until the last week in September—the next opportunity for the full board to meet and vote – to submit its recommendations. Anything less would be simply unfair and would clearly stifle the opportunity for public participation in the review of a project which is already obfuscated by being subject to a process not enshrined in the NYC City Charter or properly promulgated under New York law.

This morning, there’s reaction to the Draft EIS from other groups [ones which have been at odds with Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer over strategy]. The Coalition to Protect Chinatown & the Lower East Side and Lower East Side Organized Neighbors put out a statement that read, in part:

Zoning Resolution Article VII, Chapter 8 clearly outlines that any development to be constructed in this segment of the Two Bridges neighborhood must not be so massive as to negatively impact the neighborhood, and restrict the light and air of the residents. It would also be illegal for these new developments to create a total alteration of neighborhood character and traffic. It is clear that four towers, each over 70 stories tall, would be in direct violation of this Zoning Resolution – and therefore in direct violation of the law. Should the Mayor greenlight the developments, and DCP continue to approve the process allowing for their construction, a lawsuit centering on the violation of this zoning resolution will immediately be triggered to stop the developments in their entirety. While other elected officials host rallies to draw out the timeline of this process, their strategy accepts that the towers will be built.

The Department of City Planning has not responded to our requests for comment. We’ll have more after today’s rally.

UPDATE 4:17 p.m. At today’s meeting, the City Planning Commission agreed to schedule a public hearing on the Draft EIS for Oct. 17, giving Cb3 time to review the document. More info here.

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