The private developers’ proposal to build four mega towers in the Two Bridges neighborhood on the Lower East Side has stirred strong feelings among the community’s residents. We not only are calling on the City Planning Commission to turn the proposals down due to the massive disruptive environmental impacts of 730-foot buildings along the waterfront of the FDR expressway, but also are offering to partner with government to create regulations on the height, open space, ground floor uses and affordability of any new buildings to be built in the area.
With rents on the Lower East Side averaging about $3,000 monthly for a studio or one-bedroom, residents are already struggling to be able to continue to live in the community. Yet, when the area was redesigned from dense tenement blocks via the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) in 1972, it was intended for affordable housing for low and middle income New Yorkers.
The Two Bridges community has been home to immigrants and working class families for decades, even before the tenements were cleared for government-sponsored apartment buildings. Today, more than 80 percent of residents are people of color. Since 2007, landlords have taken over 950 apartments in the Two Bridges neighborhood out of rent stabilization status. Landlords also filed 300 eviction cases from 2013 to 2015. Things likely will get worse for current residents if the mega towers are built.
Building supertall “finger” buildings that allow high sales prices based on the views they let inhabitants own hurts neighborhoods by blocking light and air from other buildings and public streets. The massive structures also cause congestion — on sidewalks, in the streets and on public transportation. There are worries about the burden the mega towers proposed for the Lower East Side could place on existing child care facilities, schools and on the neighborhood’s only grocery store.
In other words, the proposed mega towers would tear at the heart and character of a much-loved community — and one of the most unique neighborhoods in New York. In many ways, the Two Bridges neighborhood is a slice of “old New York” — a city with room for rich diversity and homes for people at all economic levels.
We understand that the private applicants are also the landowners — and the current landlords of most of the residents who will be impacted by their callous building designs. Designating only 25 percent of the new units as affordable housing just doesn’t cut it. We need more affordable housing. We need to limit the height of any new building so that the rest of the community isn’t left shivering in the shadows of massive towers. Buildings can be built that have the same amount of space inside, but are lower, to more smoothly integrate into the existing neighborhood.
We need sensible development that both builds profits for developers and strengthens neighborhoods instead of wrecking them. Community organizations — TUFF-LES, CAAAV and GOLES — are working with the Department of City Planning and Manhattan Community Board 3 to change the city rules so that the Two Bridges neighborhoods is included in the new Certificate of No Harassment pilot program and to make zoning rules proposed by over 50 local groups organized as the Chinatown Working Group over the last decade into law.
The administration seems to be trying to get the megatowers approved by the Commission before these changes go into effect. They are cutting corners and not following the democratically created process the law requires for changes to the Two Bridges LSRD. We urge the City Planning Commission to vote no to this rushed application.
Luxury apartments fetch big price tags because this city is special. Sure, Broadway, the United Nations, world-class art all make New York a one-of-a-kind place — but so do bodega cats, the sound of Mandarin on East Broadway and old tenement buildings, with street-level stores and fire escapes draped on the facades like abstract art installations. Without the patchwork of neighborhoods like Two Bridges, New York won’t be the vibrant, delicious and thriving city that it is.
While residents of the Two Bridges neighborhood want to preserve the character and history of our community, we are not opposed to development. We only want to ensure that any new development makes room for working families and retired New York City residents, who dedicated their lives to their communities. If developers do that, everybody will win.
Daisy Echevarria is a tenant leader at Lands End One at 275 South Street and a member of Tenants United Fighting for the Lower East Side (TUFF-LES) and Paula Z. Segal is an attorney with the Equitable Neighborhoods Practice of the Community Development Project.
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