Leaders and residents in Manhattan will get additional time to review three mega-developments in Two Bridges in the Lower East Side after the City Planning Commission last month delayed the hearing on the project until October.
The delay came after the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) just days before the CPC June meeting. That triggered demands from elected officials and community groups for adequate time to review the 700-page document, which would have been difficult to do over the summer.
Currently, the Two Bridges area contains a six-story storage facility, a sportsfield, a pier, and, north of the Manhattan Bridge and apartment buildings of varying sizes—the tallest is 26 stories. The zoning of the area with the apartment buildings is C6-4, which allows large-scale commercial or residential development with no height limit. This is where three developers are seeking to build four skyscrapers, the largest of which would be 1,008 feet high.
According to the 700-page DEIS, the projects include a 80-story tower at 247 Cherry St., 62- and 70-story towers across from a residential complex at 260 South St. and a 63-story tower on a lot at 259 Clinton St. In total, the projects would add 2,775 rental units in which 25 percent would be designated as permanently affordable and 200 of those would be set aside for low-income seniors. There would be about 11,000 square feet of retail space. The application for all the projects was filed jointly by three different developers.
The review of the environmental impact statement is the only formal review those projects will get because the changes to city land-use regulations that the developers seek do not require the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure or ULURP.
According to an the Department of City Planning requiring ULURP in the case of the four Two Bridges buildings was legally impossible because the developers were only asking for “minor modifications” to existing regulations.
Instead DCP asked the developers to participate in an extended community engagement process who agreed to have additional meetings to discuss the developments with the community.
Two Bridges used to be an Urban Renewal Area, where the city sought to remove blight and create mixed-income housing and employment opportunities. In 1972, the area was designated as a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area, a district in which the city allows flexibility to the normal land use regulations in order to facilitate the most space-efficient and beneficial site plans for large apartment buildings that span multiple property lots.
According to the DCP website, the City Planning Commission is allowed to modify the normal regulations using two, slightly different types of actions: “authorizations” or “special permits.” For example, “authorizations” modify what kind of facilities and commercial establishments can be located in the area, while “special permits” modify bulk or parking regulations if certain conditions and findings specified in the zoning resolution are met. Applications for special permits under CPC jurisdiction generally concern use or bulk modifications with potential for greater land use impacts than those reviewed by the BSA. Each modifies different aspects of building bulk and layout. Authorizations tend to allow smaller changes, and only special permits need to be approved through ULURP.
For both authorizations and special permits, the City Planning Commission is required to assess whether the modifications will benefit both residents and “the city as a whole” and changes don’t increase the density of the area “to the detriment of the occupants of buildings in the block or nearby blocks,” or restrict access to light or air in the surrounding areas, among others. The CPC has not released its assessment on the Two Bridges project.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer have filed a zoning text amendment that would subject the three proposals to a full public review under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) earlier this year. The zoning text amendment would replace the “minor modification” with a requirement that developers get a “special permit” to build in the area and allow properties. Special permits require a project to go through the ULURP process.
The sudden release of the DEIS report last month had members of Community Board 3, local groups and elected leaders calling for additional time to review it. Typically, the community board’s land use committee would have 60 days to review the DEIS report but community boards do not meet during the summer.
The planning commission ended up deferring action until October.
Although the delay of the CPC hearing will give the community board some time to review the DEIS, some groups are seeking a broader rezoning, and some have warned they will sue the city if the CPC approves the current development plans.
David Tieu, member of the Chinese Staff and Workers Association and Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON), is an advocate for the original Chinatown Working Group plan, which was supported by a host of local groups and proposed a broad rezoning of the area to restrict development. The Department of City Planning in 2015 rejected that plan, which covered the waterfront and 111 blocks, as to ambitious—an argument Tieu rejects.
“The only thing that is ambitious about [the Chinatown Working Group rezoning proposal] is that this is coming from a low-income neighborhood of color,” Tieu tells City Limits. “The city refuses to look at the cumulative impact. If rezoning can be passed in wealthier, white neighborhoods, then why not here?”
According to Tieu, if the CPC approves the Two Bridges project then he will be working with different community groups to bring a lawsuit against the city.
In addition to the Two Bridges project, developers have also proposed upgrades to the F Train Station at East Broadway, public spaces and resiliency upgrades, including raising landscaped areas above the 100-year flood plain, according to the DEIS.
The deadline for public comment will be on Oct. 29. Send letters to Robert Dobruskin, Dept. of City Planning, Environmental Assessment & Review Division, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271 or email RDOBRUS@planning.nyc.gov