A state appeals court ruled this week in favor of developers seeking to build four mega-towers in the Two Bridges area, but construction will not be starting any time soon. This is because two other lawsuits against the projects must be resolved first.
Last year, State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron weighed in on the suit filed by the New York City Council and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, ruling that the city unlawfully approved the projects. He found that the City Planning Commission (CPC) was required to put the proposals through ULURP, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. That would have given the Council veto power over the out-of-scale projects along the East River waterfront.
But the appeals court this week disagreed, writing, “…we find no error in CPC’s determination that the project did not require a special permit, and was therefore not subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Accordingly, the Supreme Court’s order should be reversed.” The building sites are located in a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area. The appeals court noted that the city has considerable power to do as it pleases in these types of zoning districts. The justices also asserted that the Council could have changed zoning law long ago but failed to do so:
…we are mindful of petitioners’ concerns that their constituents have had limited input on the proposed development’s potential effects on their neighborhood, including increased density, reduced open space and the construction of a large number of luxury residences in what has been a primarily working class neighborhood of low to medium rise buildings. However, existing law simply does not support the result petitioners seek… Petitioners could have taken steps to amend the [Zoning Resolution] to prohibit buildings of this scale in the area, and/or to amend ULURP to add to the categories of land use actions requiring review, through legislation and/or referendum. In addition, petitioners could have taken steps before expiration of the Two Bridges Urban Renewal Plan by its own terms in 2007 to amend the [Zoning Resolution] to include the Urban Renewal Plan’s greater restrictions, including a preference for low to medium rise buildings. Petitioners could have also sought to change the zoning classification of the Two Bridges neighborhood. Having failed to do so, petitioners cannot seek a remedy in the courts…
The projects would add 2,775 mostly market rate rental units along the historically low-income waterfront. 694 apartments (25%) would be designated as permanently affordable. The developers are JDS Development Group, a partnership between L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group and The Starrett Group. The towers would range in height from 63-80 stories.
In a statement, the City Council did not indicate whether it will appeal. A spokesperson for the de Blasio administration heralded this week’s decision, pointing to the creation of almost 700 affordable apartments and improvements to parks and public transportation, which the developers have agreed to fund.
Courts must still decide on lawsuits filed by two separate community coalitions. Paula Segal, an attorney for TakeRoot Justice told Gothamist, “The appellate division did not touch those other two decisions… Those decisions remain a barrier to the buildings moving forward.” The crux of the lawsuit filed by Segal on behalf of the community groups is that City Planning must determine how the mega-towers would impact the neighborhood. That has not occurred.
Community groups have been fighting to change the zoning in the area. A plan they’re trying to advance would limit building heights to 35 stories and require at least 50% affordable housing in new residential projects.