Towering fear for Two Bridges: Gentrification

Local activist Arnette Scott, who lives in the Two Bridges neighborhood, opposes the new buildings. Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | At a public hearing of Community Board 3 on Aug. 14, Two Bridges community members voiced fears of further gentrification and displacement they said four proposed new towers — with nearly 2,100 market-rate units between them — would bring to the neighborhood.

Developers, meanwhile, continue to highlight the improvements they would bring to the Lower East Side enclave, including 700 new affordable units.

Just one person at the hearing supported the plan — a member of the 32BJ SEIU service workers union — because of the 50 jobs for unionized building employees he said the four new megatowers would provide.

However, that, among other promised improvements, amounted to crumbs to nearly all who spoke at the meeting, in light of the Large-Scale Residential Development project’s expected impacts.

Val Jones, a member of C.B. 3 and the Lower East Side Power Partnership, charged that direct displacement of existing residents would occur due to the projects, particularly impacting seniors.

For the four-building project, the tower at 247 Cherry St., specifically, would require relocation of 19 residents, according to the Draft Environmental Impact statement, or D.E.I.S. But further refining of design plans will now impact 10 residents, rather than 19, according to a source with direct knowledge of the development at 247 Cherry St. Previous designs would have blocked more windows during construction, requiring 19 residents to be relocated, but more recent plans will reduce the direct impact to 10 residents. The source added that those 10 residents are expected to be relocated to other units in 80 Rutgers Slip during construction. A “relocation consultant” has been hired for the process. Further, 80 Rutgers will not lose any units after construction is complete, according to the same source.

But for Jones, the lack of details is concerning, particularly because the building houses elderly people.

“Let’s just treat [these seniors] with a certain amount of dignity and compassion,” Jones said. “Familiarity is very important as people get older. So, my thing is, let’s treat them with compassion.”

The Lower East Side Power Partnership is requesting that those individuals temporarily displaced have a relative contacted and translation services provided, that details about who is relocated be given to a local politician, that services be provided for seniors anxious about relocating, and that seniors have the opportunity to stay where they were relocated.

“If you’re going to change their routine and they’re anxious, then somebody needs to talk to them — maybe somebody in social work or something,” Jones said. “That can be very disorienting [for] somebody older to have their routine changed.”

Since 80 Rutgers Slip is under a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development agreement, the residents’ relocation requires a HUD-approved plan.

In early 2017, The Lo-Down revealed that HUD had already been in contact with Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Settlement Housing Fund, expressing support for the development plan but noting a “formal request for approval” must be submitted.

A HUD spokesperson Olga Alvarez said a relocation plan has not been received or approved for this project. In early 2017 — when The Lo-Down revealed HUD’s communication with the 80 Rutgers Slip owners — HUD advised the developers and local politicians about the requirements for the seniors’ relocation under the Housing Assistance Payment contract, or HAP, Alvarez said.

According to the D.E.I.S., “No residents would be permanently displaced.” Under environmental review rules, the direct residential displacement is well under the 500-person threshold that would be considered a “significant adverse environmental impact.”

Many at the Aug. 14 hearing referred to Extell Development’s new 800-foot-tall glass residential condo tower at One Manhattan Square (252 South St.).

Construction of the building — which features various luxury amenities, including a two-lane bowling alley and a basketball court — has disrupted the community for years, according to neighbors who spoke at the hearing. Concerns over how construction of four more towers would impact the surrounding area’s light, air quality and congestion have also repeatedly been raised.

“You’re putting buildings in low-income communities where, I feel like — if you’re going to put up a building, at least make it beneficial for everybody else,” Brittany Gonzalez said at the hearing. She added that her family has already been “pushed out” of the neighborhood.

On the private bowling alley, pool and basketball court at One Manhattan Square, she added, “How does that benefit us?”

“What scares me the most,” Gonzalez said, “is that I don’t want these buildings to go up, and the people that were living there and building their foundations since they were young — and they want their kids to also do that — they’re going to be driven out.”

One difference between these four new high-rises and Extell’s tower is that 25 percent of their apartments — about 700 units, in total — would be affordable; it’s expected the affordable units would be made available to tenants earning 40, 60 and 120 percent of area median income, or A.M.I.

That would be “one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in Manhattan in decades, and a critical addition amid the ongoing housing crisis,” the developers said in a statement through spokesperson James Yolles.

The Extell project does include affordable units, too — 200 of them. However, they are located in a separate, smaller building on Cherry St., a fact that neighborhood residents decried as discrimination during the project’s outreach stage.

Another 2,075 units in the new quartet of towers would be market rate.

“We’ve appreciated the opportunity to hear additional community feedback about the projects over the last several weeks and are enthusiastic about the improvements that would be made as a result of the proposed projects,” the developers said.

Among these planned improvements are $40 million in upgrades to the East Broadway subway station, including an elevator; $15 million slated for three parks; “neighborhood-format” retail; a community room at 265-275 Cherry St.; and a community facility at 260 South St., among others.

Flood protections will be added to 80 Rutgers Slip by elevating mechanical systems, adding deployable flood barriers, upgrading fire-protection systems, and installing emergency generators. 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.

“These are investments that will provide genuine and lasting benefits for the neighborhood,” the developers said. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with elected officials and other local stakeholders as the formal public review process continues.”

This public hearing process for the four towers — which are not undergoing the city’s formal Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP — was reignited when the D.E.I.S. was suddenly publicly released in late June.

The projects include an 80-story building at 247 Cherry St., by JDS Development Group; 62- and 69-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.

The Department of City Planning will hold a public hearing on Oct. 17.

Local politicians have scrambled to find a way to force the project to go through ULURP. City Councilmember Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer filed a zoning text amendment with City Planning that would require a special permit to be obtained for the project, which would, therefore, need to go through ULURP.

If the buildings are made to go through ULURP, Chin would gain more power over the process, since a vote would be required in the City Council and the projects are in her district.

Many who spoke at the hearing voiced support for the Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan, which was a community-based plan years in the making that would require stricter height limits. That plan has largely fizzled; but many Lower East Side activists — including representatives of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and Chinatown activist group CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities — are still advocating for the C.W.G. rezoning and requesting Board 3’s support for that plan.

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