Two Bridges towers study lowballs impact on school seats, displacement, community says

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Developers of four proposed residential towers in the Two Bridges area faced a tough crowd at Monday night’s Community Board 3 Land Use Committee meeting. With nearly 2,800 new apartments between the quartet of towers, a series of mitigations have been proposed based on findings from a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was abruptly released in late June.

Several mitigations for transportation, open space and resiliency were presented, including adding an elevator at the East Broadway F train station. A contingent from the 32BJ SEIU service workers union attended to voice support of the project, since developers have made a deal to hire service employees at the new towers from that union.

But the audience was unimpressed. Many called the mitigations the “bare minimum” for  their neighborhood. Many residents were left shocked at the D.E.I.S. findings of minimal impact to specific intersections, bus routes and school seats, among others. A Chinatown activist blasted the developers for the findings that
say the project will not cause negative socioeconomic impacts as
a result of displacement in surrounding buildings.

For one, the analyses found school capacity would be minimally impacted. Developers would only have to increase school capacity by 16 elementary school seats and 19 childcare school seats, according to the D.E.I.S. findings.

“[That’s] hard for me to comprehend,” said Lisa Kaplan, a member of the Land Use Committee. “These [school] buildings have been crammed to the fullest.”

Janitors’ closets are often used as the school nurse’s office and art supplies are cleaned in bathroom sinks because art rooms aren’t equipped with proper sinks, committee members told the developers.

A breakdown of the towers’ units to determine what types of residents will live in them has not yet been determined, according to a spokesperson for the developers. The developers, however, are considering including 200 units for senior housing, which they say would eliminate the expected impacts on school capacity.

The 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. Roughly 25 percent of the units will be permanently affordable under 421a, Option E, according to the developers’ spokesperson, and are expected to be a mix of 40, 60 and 120 percent of the area median income, or A.M.I.

The towers are currently being reviewed by the City Planning Commission, which will hold a public hearing Oct. 17.

Mitigations for open spaces include enhancing and expanding open spaces at Rutgers Slip, the private courtyard at 265 Cherry St., and new private open space at 247 Cherry St. The developers will also pay for upgrades at Coleman Playground, Captain Jacob Joseph Playground and Little Flower Playground.

Based on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement’s findings, the three new projects — with a total of four towers — in the Two Bridges district, which are slated to be constructed in the area in the red box, above, would impact public open spaces. As a result, upgrades will be made to three local playgrounds, shown in dark green on the map.

Shadows from the new buildings are expected to significantly affect Cherry Clinton and Lillian D. Wald playgrounds, so the developers will pay $50,000 per year over the next 10 years for improvements, such as better lighting and landscaping.

“Given the scarcity of vacant land in this area, the D.E.I.S. focuses on the improvement and renovation of existing spaces,” said David Karnovsky, the developers’ lawyer, of the law firm Fried Frank. “It’s also important to note that the focus is on creating new open-space enhancements — meaning ones that are not already in development or funded. The idea is not to have the developers’ funding [be] a substitute for city funding.”

The developers will also pay $40 million for upgrades at the East Broadway F subway station, including new elevators at the intersection of East Broadway and Rutgers St., a new entrance at Rutgers and Madison Sts., and new stairs at the Madison St. entrance. Up to 10 intersections with expected increases in foot and vehicle traffic will be mitigated by signal timing, restriping lanes and widening crosswalks for pedestrians.

Karnovsky explained that just two traffic locations will not get mitigation improvements — Montgomery and South Sts. and Chatham Square — since estimates only show around 30 seconds of added travel time for pedestrians.

Trever Holland, a member of Board 3 and a Two Bridges Tower resident, detailed extensive concerns about the findings, including the lack of traffic mitigations at South St. and Rutgers Slip. That intersection, Holland said, is at the center of the new towers, a passageway to the East River esplanade, and where one 82-year-old woman was killed and two were injured while crossing the street to the esplanade in 2014, as The Lo-Down reported at the time. Even so, the analyses in the D.E.I.S. found no impacts at South St. and Rutgers Slip.

Construction is expected to last between 30 and 36 months. Developers said they are committed to addressing noise, air-quality and traffic concerns by various measures, and a hotline, e-mail address and Web site for questions and updates will be created.

Developers are funding some resiliency measures for existing sites, mostly at 80 Rutgers Slip.

Three new megatower developments — with a total of four actual towers — are slated for the Two Bridges area. The copper-colored building at left has already been erected and interior construction on it is currently being completed.

The 247 Cherry St. developers will raise mechanical systems, add deployable storm barriers (that would be employed against a storm), upgrade fire-protection systems and install emergency generators for 80 Rutgers Slip. New construction and existing landscaped areas will be elevated to 1 foot above the base 100-year-flood elevation between South and Cherry Sts. and Rutgers Slip and Jefferson Sts., and deployable barriers will be added for spaces that cannot be elevated, according to the developers’ spokesperson.

One example of deployable barriers is the Tiger Dams, which are installed in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The developers’ spokesperson said exactly what kind of barriers would be installed has not been determined.

The hundreds of market-rate units, per the D.E.I.S., will not have an effect on displacement of current residents, largely because many in the neighborhood are in rent-regulated or supported housing. But Melanie Wang, the Chinatown Tenants Union lead organizer, slammed that finding.

The environmental review guidelines, Wang said, clearly state that rent-regulated tenants are not at risk of displacement because their units are regulated.

The D.E.I.S said the environmental review guidelines define a “vulnerable population” as “renters living in privately held units unprotected by rent control, rent stabilization or other government regulations restricting rents, and whose incomes or poverty status indicate that they may not support substantial rent increases.” In the study area, 88 percent of surrounding units are regulated in some way.

“I think we feel, and many land-use experts feel that kind of standard of analysis is fundamentally flawed,” Wang said. She said towers at 350 feet tall with 50 percent affordable units would be preferable, and urged that guidelines of established community zoning proposals, such as the Chinatown Working Group’s, be followed.

She said she fears the increased market-rate units would only increase displacement and unaffordability in the neighborhood. The way that this change is now happening, Wang said, “is oftentimes violent and traumatic for families.”

Based on precedent of the risks of harassment and displacement that rent-regulated tenants face on the Lower East Side, Wang said she simply cannot take the D.E.I.S. findings seriously.

“It’s ludicrous,” she said, “from my perspective, that this type of environmental analysis concludes that 2,700 units will have no adverse secondary residential displacement impact on the neighborhood.”

This article has been updated to clarify how much money developers will pay for playground improvements and what open spaces will be private.

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