Planning gives more time for public input on Two Bridges towers

At a rally Monday morning, local politicians and activists said Community Board 3 needed to be given sufficient time to review a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for three upcoming megatowers in the Two Bridges area. The D.E.I.S. was abruptly announced last week — right as summer is set to see C.B. 3 slow down and many people leave town. In photo above, City Councilmember Margaret Chin spoke, as listening, to the left of her, were Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and C.B. 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer, along with community activists. Later that day, City Planning said the D.E.I.S. review would be extended into October. Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Lower East Siders won a small victory Monday afternoon in their fight against the march of megatower projects in the Two Bridges area.

The Department of City Planning announced the release of an extensive document late last week that must undergo public review within a set amount of time. Because community boards meet less often in the summer and many people take vacations, community members feared there would be inadequate public input into the process. But shortly after a rally Monday morning, the commission announced it would extend the public-review process until Oct. 17.

“It’s a 700-page document,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said at the rally. “Who can do that during the summer?”

The lengthy document, known as a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or D.E.I.S., is a part of developers’ applications for what are technically “minor modifications.” Despite the description, the three projects involved are far from minor, critics charge. Four towers on three different sites (one project would include two towers on a single base) have been proposed in the neighborhood; Brewer said that would represent more growth in a 36-month period than the neighborhood — sandwiched between the footings of the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge — has seen in three decades.

The planned projects include an 80-story building at 247 Cherry St. by JDS Development Group; 63- and 70-story towers at 260 South St. by L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group; and a 63-story tower at 259 Clinton St. by the Starrett Group.

“This was rezoned in 1961,” Brewer said of the Two Bridges development area. “It makes no sense in 2018. It has to go through a discussion. … We will fight it every step of the way.”

City Planning now says it will extend the time period when the public can review the documents and comment on the trio of projects at the commission’s review session about the developers’ application.

Typically, this specific application would be referred to the local community board — in this case, Board 3 — for its advisory review for a period of between 30 and 60 days. A review period of 60 days for C.B. 3 would put the public hearing on Sept. 5, according to Ryan Singer, City Planning’s senior director of land use review and commission operations.

“However, our schedule in September has a number of large projects, and they’re likely to have their hearings that month,” Singer noted in a statement at the Monday afternoon review session. “That means the City Planning Commission would not likely be able to hold a hearing on this item until Oct. 17, at the earliest. This aligns happily with requests from the community, the applicant and the borough president.”

The city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, doesn’t apply to these applications, Singer added. With the public hearing set to be held Oct. 17, the deadline for public comment will be Oct. 29.

“Maybe they all thought we would be on vacation and we wouldn’t notice, right?” Councilmember Margaret Chin said. She applauded the Two Bridges community for their efforts, recalling the community’s resiliency after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. After braving electric outages and risky conditions, the community is only tougher and more resilient, she warned the developers.

“What unites us here is our resiliency and our grit,” she said. “Together, we did what many people said it would take years to do [after Sandy]. We bounced back.”

Despite pushback against the megatowers by the community and local politicians, the developers contend they have now been in talks with residents and stakeholders for quite some time.

“We have been strongly committed to dialogue with local stakeholders and outreach to local residents from the inception of the projects, now almost two years ago,” the three developers said in a statement through spokesperson James Yolles by e-mail. “We will continue to honor that commitment during the community board phase of the process and appreciate the concern recently expressed by the board that it requires more time to review the applications.”

In a letter dated June 22, David Karnovsky, the land-use attorney representing the developers, requested that Singer push the hearing back to a later date. The developers added in the statement that they look forward to a productive discussion with C.B. 3 and other local stakeholders.

Three new megatower developments — with a total of four actual towers — are slated for the Two Bridges area. The leftmost tower in the design rendering above, located at a spot just north of the Manhattan Bridge, has already been erected; interior construction on it is currently being completed.

However, Susan Stetzer, C.B. 3’s district manager, questioned the developers’ transparency over the past year. At the beginning, developers were transparent with C.B. 3, providing a timeline and promises of a robust dialogue. But that dialogue petered out, until this week when the draft E.I.S. was announced.

“I don’t know why there’s been such a drastic change, but this community deserves better,” Stetzer said. “Two Bridges is a low-income, immigrant community of color. The community should receive more services and assistance, not be blocked from proper process.”

Some neighborhood residents question the area’s ability to absorb another few thousand residential units. One local looked at Extell Development’s One Manhattan Square — the first megatower to rise in the Two Bridges district — as a clear indicator megatowers don’t fit in the community.

“Look at this humungous monster,” Ernest Velez, who has lived at 82 Rutgers St. for more than two decades, said of the tower just north of the Manhattan Bridge. “It hasn’t hit us completely yet because people haven’t moved into the building.”

But with more towers slated to come, he expects an explosion of car traffic, an influx of people but a lack of food markets, and an increase in noise, along with a decrease in air quality. Velez added he would expect an increase of police and security in the area, as well.

“Who are they going to be looking at? They’re going to be looking at us,” Velez said of the possibility of more police as a result of more residents in a neighborhood that is largely low-income, immigrant and minority.

Monica Guardiola, president of the Lower East Side Democratic Club, who has lived in the Lower East Side her entire life, said the neighborhood lacks adequate infrastructure to handle more residents. She added that the developers have not only ignored the current residents, but the future residents of the new luxury towers, which will soon dominate a neighborhood lacking adequate services.

Developers have planned mitigations to the megatowers, including upgrades to the F train station at East Broadway, improvements to Coleman, Captain Joseph, and Little Flower Playgrounds, construction-noise mitigation measures, and various open-space enhancements. For Guardiola, though, those measures do not change the fact that much of the community does not think the planned towers are beneficial for the neighborhood.

“The developers discard our issues, discard our feelings and discard how we wanted to live,” she said. “We can’t even help the people we have here because we’re over-capacitated.”

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