City Council District 1 has been in the news for weeks. It was home to one of the city’s most hotly contested Democratic primary races. Community activist Christopher Marte, who lost the primary by just 222 votes to incumbent Margaret Chin, is now running on the Independent Party line in the November 7 general election. Both campaigns have been on the offensive, with Chin accusing staff affiliated with the Marte campaign of voter fraud and harassment—claims that Marte denies.
From the beginning, gentrification and over-development have been the top issues in the race.
A group in support of passing a neighborhood-wide rezoning held a press conference Tuesday at noon announcing a march on October 25 that will galvanize support for Marte. At the same time, Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer announced their latest action to require more public oversight for the four skyscrapers planned for the Two Bridges area. And on Wednesday, the Community Board 3 Land Use Committee will be holding an important discussion—livestreamed by City Limits—about a proposal by CAAAV Organizing Communities and Good Old Lower East Side to rezone the waterfront.
There are a ton of moving parts here, so we’ve broken it down for you.
The March for Marte
On Monday, a coalition called Lower East Siders for Christopher Marte sent out a press releasing explaining they were holding a press conference on Tuesday to announce a later march in support of Marte. At the press conference, tenant leaders from LaGuardia Houses and Lands End II, representatives of groups like Chinatown & Lower East Side Artists Against Displacement and Downtown Independent Business Alliance, and others, accused Chin of “robbing the community of its public assets and resources to enrich luxury developers” and called for the passage of the entire Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan, something Marte has said he’ll fight for.
The Chinatown Working Group plan, completed nearly four years ago by a wide variety of community stakeholders, would impose height limits and require additional affordability throughout the Lower East Side and Chinatown, but the Department of City Planning (DCP) dismissed it as too comprehensive and anti-growth and has instead expressed a willingness to explore a narrower rezoning of Chinatown. Critics argued that Chin, who participated in the Chinatown Working Group but went along with the idea of a limited rezoning, should have placed more pressure on the de Blasio administration to adopt the entire plan.
It is not entirely clear what will happen if Marte is victorious in November; he could push the mayor harder than Chin has done or he could take on the challenge of filing a zoning application himself for the entire plan, but either way it will still need to get through the mayor-appointed City Planning Commission.
Chin will also face Republican Bryan Jung and Liberal party candidate Aaron Foldenauer in the general election.
Two Bridges and Chin’s Text Amendment
One of the main critiques faced by Chin is that had the Chinatown Working Group’s entire plan been adopted earlier, the community would not now be grappling with controversial plans by three developers for four new skyscrapers in the waterfront area known as the Two Bridges.
Chin, for her part, has countered that she has from the beginning tried a variety of means to force the administration to subject the Two Bridges skyscrapers to additional public oversight. On Tuesday, Chin and Brewer sent out a press release announcing that last Thursday they had filed a draft zoning text amendment relating to Two Bridges—”the first submitted solely by elected officials in nearly 15 years,” according to a press release.
The text amendment, if approved, would require the Two Bridges towers to be subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), the seven-month public review process that gives City Council the ultimate vote on whether to approve or disapprove a land use change.
“Since we first heard about these proposed mega-developments, Borough President Brewer and I have made our demands clear: we need a real, transparent public review process,” said Chin in a press release. “This year, we are delivering on the promise we made to the Two Bridges community by using every tool at our disposal to make their voices heard. These out-of-scale buildings threaten to displace hardworking residents, bring forth irreversible environmental hazards, and accelerate gentrification, which would endanger the very fabric of the Two Bridges community.”
Part of the issue is that the proposed towers happen to be located in a special zoning district governed by distinctive rules, but the administration does not agree with local elected officials and community advocates about how those rules should be interpreted.
Last year, DCP decided that according to their reading of the city’s rules, the city couldn’t require the Two Bridges towers to go through ULURP. Instead, DCP declared the developers would be only subject to a vote by the mayor-appointed City Planning Commission. Chin and some community advocates have threatened to challenge that legal reading in court, but Chin and Brewer are now also trying to change the zoning rules themselves—to clarify that the new developments absolutely must go through ULURP.
For that text amendment to have an effect, it would need to go through the ULURP process itself, and fast—and Chin and Brewer have already introduced legislation to speed the pre-ULURP process in certain cases—and it would need to be approved by both the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
While Chin’s supporters will regard the measure as another sincere attempt by Chin to fight for appropriate development, her critics will likely not be impressed. They have already expressed their fear that if Chin is given the chance to vote on the projects, she might negotiate for community benefits with the mayor rather than put the kibosh on them completely.
The CAAAV, GOLES, TUFF-LES rezoning
If things weren’t complicated enough, here’s one more layer: three community groups, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and Tenants United Fighting for Lower East Side (TUFF-LES) are also deploying another strategy to fight the Two Bridges towers: they seek to quickly pass the portion of the Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan that pertains to the waterfront. That would set height limits and additional affordability requirements in the Two Bridges area—effectively making the currently proposed towers impossible to build. They have asked Brewer and Community Board 3 to support this effort, and on Wednesday night Community Board 3 will discuss the idea at their 6:30 pm Land Use Committee meeting, to be held in the Two Bridges Tower Community Room, 82 Rutgers Slip, 2nd Floor.
Chin has said she is supportive of such an effort but wants to let Board 3 take the lead.
Can’t make the board meeting? We’ll be livestreaming here: