A panel of appellate judges on Tuesday reversed an earlier injunction halting the contentious Two Bridges project — a major setback for Lower East Side community groups, which have been waging a legal battle against the city and developers.

Handel Architects

A rendering of potential development in Two Bridges provided by the developers. Farthest left is the Extell tower, which is already nearing completion. The other four towers have yet to be approved and are the subject of the fight.

A panel of appellate judges on Tuesday reversed the earlier injunction which had halted the contentious Two Bridges project — a major setback for Lower East Side community groups, which have been waging a legal battle against the city and developers behind the project since the City Planning Commission approved it in 2018.

The State Supreme Court Appellate Division wrote their decision regarding two different lawsuits filed against the project, which would construct four towers with 11,000 square feet of retail and over 2,700 new residential units in the Two Bridges neighborhood. The lawsuits argued that zoning regulations for the site—within what the city deemed a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area in 1972—requires the city “make findings” before approving modifications in an LSRD, looking at things like whether a project will drastically change the neighborhood or negatively impact light, air or privacy.

But the appellate judges on Tuesday sided with the city’s interpretation of the LSRD zoning rules—an interpretation the judges called “reasonable”—saying such findings are not required, and that the lawsuits’ argument was not sufficient to uphold the current injunction.

The lawsuits’ petitioners have 30 days to request permission from the court to file an appeal.If those are denied, then they have 30 days to request permission to appeal again. If both permissions are denied, then the lawsuits are over.

The community organizations behind of the lawsuits––Tenants United Fighting for the Lower East Side (TUFF-LES), CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Land’s End Tenant Association and the LaGuardia Houses Tenant Association—said in a statement they are looking at all their legal options.

“The court erred in ignoring the specific history of the area, and the careful balance of land use considerations that allowed buildings to be built on roadbed in exchange for adequate open space. My clients are considering all their options through the courts,” Paula Segal, a senior staff attorney for Takeroot Justice who is representing the plaintiffs, said in an email statement to City Limits. 

The community groups are also  working with the Department of City Planning (DCP) in the hopes of rezoning a part of the Lower East Side community. Segal says they want the area rezoned to require 50 percent of any new construction be affordable (under the Two Bridges’ proposal, 25 percent or 690 of the development’s units would be affordable, with 200 of those set aside for seniors). 

“Our intent is to have the rezoning in place before any new development moves forward,” Segal says.

The second lawsuit––brought by Lower East Side Organized Neighbors and other petitioners––was also dismissed by the appellate judge panel in the same order Tuesday.  

An earlier third suit, brought by the City Council and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in 2018, argued the proposed project’s large size required a special permit which would trigger the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). A judge in that case granted a temporary restraining order halting the development in 2019, but that decision was overturned last August in Appeals Court.

The disputed Two Bridges development project would include a 1,008-foot rental tower at 247 Cherry St., a 798-foot dual-tower project at 260 South St., and a 730-foot building at 259 Clinton St., brought by a group of developers (JDS Development Group, L+M Development Partners, CIM Group and Starrett Corporation). The developers say the project would also come with $40 million in upgrades to the nearby East Broadway subway station, $12.5 million in repairs to the nearby NYCHA complex and $15 million in upgrades to three public parks in the neighborhood. 

“We applaud the court’s decision, which confirms what we’ve said all along: these projects were lawfully approved and comply with zoning that’s been in place for more than 30 years,” the developers said in a joint emailed statement.

“Private investments in affordable housing and essential community infrastructure are critical as the city emerges from the pandemic, and these projects will deliver a range of meaningful and lasting benefits for the Two Bridges neighborhood, including one of Manhattan’s largest infusions of new affordable housing in decades,” their statement continued. “We appreciate the court’s careful review and look forward to moving ahead with these important projects for the city’s recovery.” 

Over the last few years, several community groups have brought lawsuits challenging different development projects across the five boroughs, bringing the city’s land use powers under scrutiny. Most recently, the city’s proposal to rezone 80 blocks of Gowanus in Brooklyn is also facing a lawsuit from community members who say it should be postponed until after the pandemic, when in-person public meetings can resume.