City Planning Commission members raised concerns about the city’s method for assessing environmental impact during the Wednesday public hearing on three development projects proposed for the Two Bridges area.
The public hearing drew roughly 100 supporters and opponents, from developers and housing advocates to community organizations and residents. Lower East Side Organized Neighbors (LESON) held a rally outside of 120 Broadway before the public hearing began and held signs that read “No Towers and No Compromise.”
The joint application filed by four developers is for taller buildings than allowed under the current zoning restrictions for Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) district. The proposed development would allow three new mixed-use high-rise buildings, a 1,008-foot rental tower at 247 Cherry Street by JDS Development Group; a 798-foot dual-tower project at 260 South Street by L+M Development Partners and CIM Group; and a 730-foot building at 259 Clinton Street by Starrett Corporation. According to the DEIS the four towers would bring in 11,000 square feet for retail and over 2,700 new residential units to the area; 25 percent of those units will be affordable. Two hundred of those 690 affordable units would be set aside for seniors (although details of how affordability will be measured has not been shared).
“The three proposed projects will deliver approximately 700 much-needed units of permanently affordable housing, representing one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in Manhattan in decades and a critical addition amid the ongoing housing crisis. At the same time, the proposed developments include investments that will provide genuine and lasting benefits for current residents of the neighborhood,” said all the developers in a joint email statement to City Limits. “These include resiliency upgrades for both existing and proposed buildings, an estimated $40 million in upgrades to the East Broadway subway station that will make the station ADA-accessible for the first time, an estimated $15 million in upgrades to three local public parks, new neighborhood-format retail, and various other improvements. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with elected officials and other local stakeholders as the formal public review process moves toward its conclusion.”
Some community organizations such as Chinatown Working Group, GOLES, CAAAV along with residents and elected officials want the city to put a hold on the Two Bridges application until a text amendment introduced to the City Council by Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer — which would force the Two Bridges application into a special permit and activate the ULURP process — moved forward in the City Council.
Other residents and community organizations such as LESON do not want any development to take place and plan on taking the city to court if the proposed development project is approved.
“In stark contrast to our Text Amendment, the application being heard today put Commissioners in a difficult position as the deciders of the fate of an entire neighborhood. I believe the Environmental Impact Statement accompanying these applications does not adequately address the negative side effects on the already strained infrastructure of an area underserved by transit, retail amenities and open space,” said Chin in her testimony.
The environmental, planning and engineering consulting firm behind the Two Bridges environmental impact review, AKRF, also testified and was questioned at length by Commission members Michelle De La Uz, Anna Levin and Larisa Ortiz.
Anne Locke, representing AKRF, said the environmental impact looked at over a dozen critieria and determined that community services and facilities, open spaces, shadows, transportation and construction would be strongly impacted by the construction of the proposed Two Bridges projects.
When De La Uz asked Locke about the how the EIS gauged the potential for residential displacement, Locke replied that the area already has a large number of permanently affordable units, including public housing, whose tenants are not at risk of displacement.
But commission member Levin chimed in and said, “the potential for displacement is there.” De la Uz noted that a recent Pratt Center report found the city’s method for environmental impact review questionable, especially when it comes to assessing displacement.
Locke said that the technical guide behind the methodology is looked at every year by AKRF.
State Senator Brian Kavanagh and State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou also testified against the proposed development project and how it could change the neighborhood they both represent. Currently, the Two Bridges area contains a six-story storage facility, a sports field, a pier 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.
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 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.
A significant element of the controversy over the Two Bridges proposals is that the de Blasio administration has determined they represent only a “minor modification,” and therefore do no require a full Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.
“The idea that these immensely tall towers, bringing nearly 3000 units to an area the size of a city block, are a ‘minor modification is appalling. The amount of units the proposed developments will bring to the neighborhood are comparable to the neighborhood rezonings we’ve seen in East Harlem, East New York, Jerome Avenue, Far Rockaway, and Inwood – areas that span entire sections of this city, not just one block. Those plans went through a real public review process: ULURP. The fact that these proposed developments are not subject to the same review is unjust,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in her testimony.
Asian immigrant residents with rent-stabilized apartments say they have already begun to the see negative impacts of development on their neighbors
Xue Liang Min, who has lives on Monroe Street with his grandchildren, said through a translator that he has witnessed the changes in his community, “Because of the gentrification a lot of landlords have harrassed and displaced residents. We understand this is not the right thing to do and there will be tremendous impact. I have witnessed the amount of the change that occurred after they purchased those buildings [on Monroe Street]. Immediately after they begin remodeling and construction and then came the harassing the tenants to leave. By 2018, eight families are left and the new tenants pay up to $3,000 a month. Gentrification made a huge impact on us [living in] rent-stabilized units.”
Another resident of 53 Monroe Street said that his landlord is trying to harass him now and that his experience is a sign of what is to come if the proposed development projects are approved by the CPC.
“Over 10 years, now the landlord harrasses us. … They knock on my door and claim that I don’t live there,” said Chen Ren Ping. “They use these tactics to take me to court and I don’t speak English, so I rely on my community organization to help me. I have rights as a tenant.”
Paula Segal from the Community Development Project, who did not have time to go through her whole testimony, emailed City Limits with her testimony calling the proposed Two Bridges development projects ” obfuscated and illegal process.”
Segal argued, “The zoning resolution is clear that where there are two sets of regulations applicable to a particular lot, the more restrictive terms control. The LSRD is more restrictive and more recent than the underlying zoning, thus all development must comply with it. The enormous buildings the applicants seek to build now were not part of the original LSRD plan as adopted in 1972, nor part of the amendments made for construction in later Authorized and Permitted Phases.”
Segal is not alone. Several residents and LESON also said that the Two Bridges proposed development violates the city’s own zoning resolution.
The public has until Oct. 29 to submit comments here and then a final EIS for the Two Bridges will be reviewed before the City Planning Commission can schedule a vote on the matter.
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