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Two Bridges rezoning proposal makes strides with Lower East Side community board

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Community Board 3’s land use subcommittee voted in favor of a community-backed rezoning proposal

Two Bridges waterfront skyscrapers Handel Architects

More than a hundred Lower East Side residents packed into a community room at the Two Bridges Tower last night to voice their support for a rezoning proposal that would potentially prevent the rise of a trio of skyscrapers in the Two Bridges area.

A coalition of community organizations presented this rezoning proposal to Community Board 3’s land use committee last night in hopes that CB3 would sign on as a co-applicant on the rezoning proposal.

Without the support of a government body, the community would have to shell out $500,000 to file a land use application to start the rezoning process, and the groups expressed concerns that raising those funds would be nearly impossible. But Lower East Siders were in luck; despite some hesitations, members of the land use committee all agreed to back the rezoning proposal to get the ball rolling on the process.

So what is this rezoning exactly? It’s a version of a plan that’s been put forth by the Chinatown Working Group since at least 2008. While that rezoning proposal concerned larger parts of Chinatown and the Lower East Side (and has previously been rejected by City Planning), this particular rezoning pertains to a waterfront stretch starting roughly around Catherine Street and going up to East 13th Street.

Here are some of the salient features of rezoning proposal:

  • To limit the height of buildings to 350 feet, while not necessarily changing density; so developers could build shorter towers but potentially with more units.
  • Offering up 55 percent permanent affordable housing in each new development.
  • Ensuring that hotels and big box commercial stores like Walmart have to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) before they’re allowed to open in the neighborhood.
  • Creating more open space
  • Creating community spaces like markets on the ground floors of buildings.
  • Creating stringent anti-harassment protections for tenants.

Land Use committee members expressed concerns about some of these features like the affordable housing component; some on the committee stressed that the 55 percent figure was unrealistic, but that together they could hash out an appropriate amount. Concerns were also raised that the rezoning might not pass in time to prevent construction on the three projects that are most troubling to Lower East Side residents at the moment—JDS’s 1,008-foot rental at 247 Cherry Street, L+M and CIM’s dual-tower project at 260 South Street, and Starrett’s 724-foot tower at 259 Clinton Street. Together these towers will bring 3,000 apartments to the neighborhood.

Members of the community organizations pushing this rezoning, which includes Good Old Lower East Side, CAAAV, and TUFF-LES, countered those concerns by saying that there was still a strong chance to stop the towers pointing to Sutton Place residents, who are pushing forth their own rezoning proposal to block Gamma Real Estate’s 800-foot tower. Members of the LES community organizations also argued that if the rezoning didn’t stop these towers, it could certainly curtail similar developments from going up in the neighborhood, in the future.

Dozens of residents spoke in favor of the rezoning proposal at last night’s meeting.

“This is the most egregious and worst case of gentrification this city has ever entertained,” Maggie Ramirez, a resident who has lived in the neighborhood for 60 years, said at last night’s meeting. “It’s offensive and an assault to the community.”

“With Essex Crossing, and these towers, we are suddenly talking about 10,000 people moving into our neighborhood with no plans for more schools or parks,” Laura Travers, a resident and bar owner in the neighborhood, added.

This rezoning proposal is moving forward simultaneously with a zoning text amendment filed by City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. If approved, developers would have to get a special permit to build in the Two Bridges area, and thereby would be forced to go through a ULURP to move forward.

Chin was also present at last night Community Board meeting and voiced her support for the rezoning as well.

UPDATE: a spokesperson for the developers behind the three projects issued the following statement to Curbed:

From the outset, and after consultation with the City and elected officials, all three development teams have committed to providing 25 percent of the proposed unit count as permanently affordable housing, which would result in the creation of nearly 700 permanently affordable apartments – one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in Manhattan in recent decades. We fully intend to formalize that commitment before the conclusion of the approval process. We appreciate that the current process has provided multiple opportunities for robust community input, including through four productive feedback sessions and ongoing discussions with neighborhood leaders. We will look forward to continuing that dialogue, and to discussing the substantial upgrades proposed for neighborhood flood resiliency, open space and retail opportunities with local stakeholders as the process moves forward.