Local activists and elected officials are fuming today over a decision to release the Two Bridges Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) just as Community Board 3 is going on hiatus for the summer.
The City Planning Commission cannot approve three large-scale residential projects along the Lower East Side waterfront until the environmental review is completed. After months of delays, the city plans to certify the Draft EIS at its Monday meeting. CB3 must weigh in on the environmental review within 60 days. Under normal circumstances, CB3’s land use committee would have reviewed the applications in July and then scheduled a vote the following month. But since it doesn’t meet in August, the review and vote will all take place in July, with just over two weeks to get a handle on the Draft EIS.
Local residents, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin have been fighting the proposed towers, which range in height from 62-79 stories.
Chin is organizing a rally on Monday to pressure the Department of City Planning to give the community more time to pour over thousands of pages of documents from the development teams. She’s expected to ask the agency to delay the release of the Draft EIS until September (see more at the end of this article). Here’s a statement Chin provided to us a short time ago:
I am outraged by this attempt to cut the community out of a planning process that will determine the future of the neighborhood that thousands of immigrant and low-income New Yorkers call home. By beginning the review process at the end of June, just as the Community Board prepares to go on summer break, these developers have been caught red-handed in a cynical attempt to sneak in four humongous towers with as little opposition as possible. Too bad these developers don’t know who they are messing with. We are paying attention, and we will never give up the fight to stop these towers so that real community-based planning can begin. That is why I joined the Borough President to file a text amendment which is our best hope of stopping these out-of-scale towers from destroying the Two Bridges that we know and love. Though we may lose the battle on Monday, I am confident that we will win the war to take back our neighborhood from greedy developers who think they can outsmart and outmaneuver this community.”
The proposals under review include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 62 and 69 story towers at 260 South St. by L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group; and a 62-story tower at 259 Clinton St. from the Starrett Group. In all of the projects, 75% of the rentals would be market rate, 25% would be designated affordable.
The Department of City Planning determined that the massive proposed towers amounted to a “minor modification” of the Two Bridges Large-Scale Residential Plan, meaning the city was authorized to approve the towers unilaterally. In January, Chin and Brewer filed an application for a zoning text amendment to force the projects to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). This would mean more robust roles for the community board and borough president, and would subject the plans to City Council approval.
The city required Chin and Brewer to conduct a separate Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) before advancing the text amendment. That assessment is now taking place, after the City Council allocated funds for the environmental review. Council land use staff members are, however, fighting the clock, since the developers’ proposals are headed for a vote at the City Planning Commission in the fall.
The land use applications from the developers were posted on Community Board 3’s website this week (you can see them here, here and here.) The Draft EIS (which will likely be available sometime tomorrow) must detail impacts on the existing community, including transportation, infrastructure, schools and the neighborhood’s existing low-income housing. It also must spell out “mitigations,” steps that will be taken to address environmental impacts.
In a statement, the development teams said today:
The process to date has provided extensive opportunities for robust community input on the three proposed projects, including four productive public feedback sessions, multiple Community Board 3 meetings and a public scoping hearing hosted by the City. We look forward to continuing that dialogue with the community as the formal review process begins, and are excited about the potential to deliver approximately 700 much-needed units of permanently affordable housing along with significant upgrades to existing buildings, open space, flood resiliency infrastructure and additional benefits for the surrounding neighborhood.
One of the buildings most impacted by the proposed projects would be Two Bridges Tower at 82 Rutgers Slip. Residents there have already endured construction of Extell’s 80-story One Manhattan Square. Trever Holland, tenant leader at Two Bridges Tower, had this to say about the timing of the Draft EIS:
We are extremely disappointed in the timing of DCP’s decision to release the DEIS for the four proposed massive towers in Two Bridges. Once again, our community will face the burden of trying to digest thousands of pages of technical documents within an abbreviated time frame. How can the city expect for the community to properly respond and engage if they release these critical documents at the beginning of the summer? The community board only meets once and many families are away. At minimum, we would hope that DCP would extend the review period to allow for proper engagement especially considering the massive impact these proposals would have on our neighborhood.
The rally on Monday will be held at 11:30 a.m. at Rutgers Slip and South Street. Participants will march to 22 Reade St., where the Department of City Planning will hold its review session.
We have asked City Planning for its perspective on the Two Bridges land use process. We will update this story when the agency replies.
UPDATE 5:07 p.m. Today Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer sent an “urgent” letter to Marisa Lago, chair of the City Planning Commission. “Were (the Draft EIS to be released)… next week,” they wrote,”the opportunity for meaningful public review of the applications would be seriously undermined. Such an outcome cannot be allowed to occur.” They asked that the applications be, “referred to the community board at such a time that would allow for the full period of review to which it is entitled.” On the separate matter of their proposed text amendment, Chin and Brewer told Lago, “It is our expectation that DCP consider this application in a timely manner…”