It’s been one year since Councilmember Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wrote to the Department of City Planning (DCP) voicing their concerns with the three skyscrapers proposed for two blocks of the Lower East Side waterfront, which residents say will rob the area of light and greatly exacerbate neighborhood gentrification, among many other concerns. In June 2016, Chin and Brewer called on the agency to require the full public review process known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which would give Chin the ultimate say on those projects’ approval.
DCP denied that request, arguing that according to their legal analysis, the developers only required certain waivers that do not trigger a full public review process. Instead, the developer would need to obtain approval from the City Planning Commission and produce an Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the project’s potential impacts on the neighborhood. DCP also negotiated with the developer to sponsor a series of community engagement meetings, and Margaret Chin assembled a task force of local stakeholders to represent neighborhood interests.
Now those extra meetings are over, the developers are in the process of completing an Environmental Impact Statement, and the City Planning Commission’s review is approaching, but residents are still terrified of the change that could be coming to Two Bridges. Meanwhile, Chin has been taking heat from critics who say she has still not been sufficiently aggressive to stop the towers.
At a press conference on Friday morning, Chin and Brewer came out to change that perception.
“We are here to turn the page in our fight against the three major tower proposals for the two bridges neighborhood,” Chin said. “We are here to remind the administration and the developers that these projects are not a done deal and we will pursue whatever means necessary to urge the City Planning Commission to deny the current applications and require a public review of all of these towers through ULURP.”
She and Brewer explained that they were prepared to take legal action against the de Blasio administration if their demands were not met.
Chin also faulted the developers for what she described as a continued lack of transparency, pointing to the senior housing building across the street where she said it’s still unclear how many seniors will have to be relocated and where they will go due to the construction of one of the towers.
(The three developers, for their part, say they will each voluntarily provide 25 to 30 percent of units at rent-restricted level with the assistance of the 421-a tax program, and will invest in a variety of improvements to the neighborhood such as upgrades to the senior housing building, new retail and open spaces, according to earlier meetings and correspondence with City Limits.)
Others backing Chin and Brewer’s demands included Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, a representative from the office of State Senator Daniel Squadron, Chair of Community Board 3 Jamie Rogers, advocates from CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities and Good Old Lower East Side and several tenant leaders.
Some of the advocates and tenant leaders also called for the passage of the Chinatown Working Group plan, a rezoning proposed crafted by neighborhood stakeholders that, had it been passed, could have prevented the towers now under consideration in Two Bridges.
Multiple speakers reiterated the importance of unity in the fight, but there was some pushback by critics at the end of the press conference, and groups like LES Organized Neighbors and the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association put out their own press releases and fliers denouncing Chin’s record on development.
Chin’s three challengers for the Democratic primary also showed up to the press conference and each criticized the councilmember for what they said was her failure to pass the Chinatown Working Group plan. DCP has long resisted the plan as too large and complex (while offering to conduct a smaller rezoning study of just Chinatown) but some feel Chin should have pushed the agency harder on it.
Candidate Christopher Marte said his election would be a referendum on the neighborhood’s priorities and create momentum for the plan’s reconsideration, while Dashia Imperiale said if elected she would rally for the passage of the Chinatown Working Group Plan in front of City Hall. Candidate Aaron Foldenaur called Chin and Brewer’s press conference “an election year sham.”
Chin says she was part of the Chinatown Working Group planning process from the beginning and that it’s DCP who didn’t think the plan should be passed.
Update: After the publication of this article, a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning wrote to City Limits, “The City must follow the law. While the modifications sought for the Two Bridges sites do not trigger ULURP—in other words no new density or waivers are needed—a thorough environmental review which offers multiple opportunities for the public and elected officials to participate is being conducted. Moreover we are ensuring a coordinated review by the project applicants that looks at the cumulative effects of these three developments at the same time—an extraordinary but important measure that is not ordinarily required. This coordinated review will help produce the best possible outcome for this neighborhood. Much as we appreciate the desire of the community to do so, there are no grounds under which a ULURP could legally be required in this instance.”