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Locals denounce Two Bridges towers at City Planning hearing

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Dozens of residents spoke in opposition to an environmental review which they said ignored critical impacts on the community

Two Bridges waterfront skyscrapers Handel Architects

A trio of skyscrapers slated to rise in the Two Bridges section of the Lower East Side were roundly denounced at a public hearing held at the City Planning Commission on Wednesday. The meeting concerned the discussion of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the three projects, which the Planning Commission had agreed to delay from earlier in the summer over concerns that local residents did not have enough time to study it.

The developments have already received criticism from local elected officials and Lower East Side residents on the grounds that the buildings aren’t going through a typical public review process. The developers don’t need a rezoning for the proposed sites, and as a result aren’t required to go through the city’s months-long public review process known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President have been trying to push forward a bill that would ensure a more thorough public review, but their efforts haven’t gained much traction within the City Planning Commission so far. They tried to make their case again on Wednesday.

“I’m here today as part of a fight to save a neighborhood,” said Chin, kicking off the public testimony portion of the meeting on Wednesday. “Two Bridges has been a low-to-mid-rise haven for New Yorkers of all backgrounds for decades. If approved, these applications would destroy the neighborhood and it would do so without any real public review.”

“The idea that these immensely tall towers are ‘minor modifications’ is appalling,” added Brewer, later in the meeting. “These developments will have a negative impact and drastically and permanently alter the neighborhood.”

So here’s where the developments stand right now:

Two Bridges Associates

At 260 South Street, which is currently being used as a parking lot, Two Bridges Associates have planned a two-tower development designed by Handel Architects that will bring up to 1,350 apartments to the neighborhood, of which 338 units will be permanently affordable. Both of the towers would be over 700 feet tall. At 259 Clinton Street, Starrett Development wants to build a rental with 765 apartments, of which 191 will be permanently affordable. Perkins Eastman will design the building. And finally at 247 Cherry Street, JDS has retained SHoP Architects to design a supertall that will have up to 660 apartments, of which 165 will be permanently affordable.

The trio of developers have also committed to making several infrastructural improvements to the neighborhood including installing an elevator at the East Broadway F train station, and widening the platforms; create more green open space; and increase flood resiliency, among others.

“The three proposed projects will deliver approximately 700 much-needed units of permanently affordable housing, representing one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in Manhattan in decades and a critical addition amid the ongoing housing crisis,” part of a statement released by the developers read. “At the same time, the proposed developments include investments that will provide genuine and lasting benefits for current residents of the neighborhood.”

But Lower East Siders were having none of it. For nearly seven hours on Wednesday, dozens of residents and members of local community advocacy groups spoke passionately against the skyscrapers and criticized the environmental impact statement saying it ignored several critical features like the lack of public schools in the area; the lack of transit infrastructure beyond the subway and buses; and the long-term effect on rent-regulated apartments in the neighborhood.

Sophia Chalk, a 16-year-old local resident and community activist spoke articulately about witnessing the changes in her neighborhood first hand as part of her work at CAAAV, an organization working to empower asian immigrants in the neighborhood. She expressed concerns that the developers hadn’t made commitments about the level of affordability in regards to the affordable apartments, and that the towers would precipitate widespread displacement.

Several City Planning Commissioners were also in agreement that the environmental review failed to address several critical impacts to the existing infrastructure in the neighborhood, such as the potential increase of ride-hailing vehicles and the impact on traffic.

“We need to see some assurances that there are other transportation options available,” Commissioner Larisa Ortiz implored the developers.

A total of 103 speakers testified at the meeting on Wednesday. The Commission did not take a decision, and the vote on the matter has yet to be scheduled. The public has until October 29 to submit written testimony to the Commission in regards to the developments in the Two Bridges area.