(Opinion) Seward Park Resident Urges “No” Vote on Air Rights Offer

Diagrams show what the developers could build "as of right" and with Seward Park's air rights.
Diagrams show what the developers could build "as of right" and with Seward Park's air rights.
Diagrams show what the developers could build “as of right” and with Seward Park’s air rights.

The following opinion piece was written by Jerilea Zempel, who lives in the Seward Park Co-op. On Tuesday, residents there will vote on a $53.7 million deal to sell air rights to the developer of the former Bialystoker Nursing Home (more background here). The Lo-Down routinely accepts op/ed submissions relevant to the Lower East Side community. Opinion pieces do not reflect the editorial position of The Lo-Down, but only the viewpoints of each individual author. To submit an editorial/letter to the editor, use the following email: info@thelodownny.com

When I moved into Seward Park in the fall of 2003, I felt I was living at the last stop in Manhattan. It was a neighborhood the rest of the island had forgotten. I traded a West Village studio for a one-bedroom with a balcony. I heard about Seward Park from architects, but when I saw the apartments, each designed with light, air and a view onto the city, I realized how unique the place was. I figured then and still do, that this is my home for life. I think that’s an important aspect of my NO vote on the sale of Seward Park air rights to the Ascend Group. I am here for the long-term and I am considering the long-term effect of the proposed Ascend Towers on my home.

While the single tower that could be built without air rights is thin and ugly, the proposed massive two tower plan with air rights that hangs over the garage entrance is huge and grotesque. It will create a +/-32 story canyon just 40 feet from Building 2. Who wants to look at that forever? It’s an affront to the classic modernist design of Seward Park architect Herman Jessor, who created a fair and open community as much as a grouping of housing towers around green space. It’s heartbreaking that there is now a plan to sell out that uniqueness for a bundle of cash and a four month maintenance reprieve (some will get a lot more than others) and in turn will deprive a significant number of coop members  the air, light and views originally designed into their apartments. Where’s the community in that?

With only luxury condos and no affordable units, the Ascend project undermines the diversity of our surrounding community, too. Could it be the dream come true of our un-named former local politician who tried under the table for years to keep more people of color from coming into the neighborhood? But now there is only the market to blame. How progressive is that?

All this for a deal with a developer who says he can turn around and sell our air rights to anyone he wants and we can’t get out of it. All of this for a pile of fast money that we are told will solve all our financial problems in a single blow. Where have we heard this before? Seward Park Coop needs a secure long-term financial plan, not a quick-fix.

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