UPDATE: On Friday night, the Manhattan State Supreme Court decided not to grant the City Council and Borough President Gale Brewer’s motion for a temporary restraining order against the developments, allowing them to move forward. The DCP, City Council, and Borough President Brewer will be back in court in February.
A spokesperson for the law department of the DCP issued the following statement: “This court ruling enables the developers to move forward with obtaining the preliminary approvals that are necessary before development of the sites. The City’s position is clear: Subjecting these developments to ULURP would have gone beyond DCP’s statutory authority.”
The City Council and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have quickly mobilized against the City Planning Commission’s approval on Wednesday of a trio of skyscrapers poised to rise in the Two Bridges neighborhood. The Real Deal reports that the City Council along with Brewer filed a lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court on Friday seeking to stop the towers from moving forward as of right.
At issue is the interpretation of the developments in the context of the area’s zoning plan. The City Planning Commission determined in 2016 that the developments, proposed within the large-scale residential development area permitted in 1972, are only a “minor” modification to the development area. With the minor modification designation, the projects are not required to pass through the full Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) that would solicit more community involvement and scrutiny towards the developments.
“Conveniently, DCP has improperly designated these modifications as ‘minor,’ which would exempt these projects from the entirety of the ULURP process and deprive the Council of its oversight and regulatory role over these projects and the Borough President of her role to review and make recommendations,” the lawsuit reads. “Projects of this magnitude are required to undergo the full battery of hearings and oversight that ULURP provides.”
As plans stand right now, JDS Development Group will build a 1,008-foot rental, designed by SHoP Architects, at 247 Cherry Street; L+M and CIM (under the auspices of Two Bridges Associates) will build a 798 and 728-foot tower, designed by Handel Architects, at 260 South Street; and Starrett will build a 724-foot tower, designed by Perkins Eastman, at 259 Clinton Street. Together these developments will bring a total of approximately 3,000 apartments to the neighborhood, of which 700 units will be affordable.
The developers have also promised numerous neighborhood improvements, such as park and playground upgrades, flood resiliency measures, a $12.5 million investment in a nearby NYCHA complex, and a new ADA-compliant entrance at the East Broadway F station. Those improvements helped sway some of the members of CPC, though there was some hesitation even among those who approved the project.
Chin and Brewer released a joint statement on Wednesday denouncing CPC’s decision. “We’re not against any and all development in Two Bridges or anywhere else,” it reads, in part. “But rules either exist or they don’t. This is a neighborhood rezoning’s worth of housing, and it’s a wild departure from what the current rules allow. Two Bridges residents deserve the same rights, the same negotiation, and the same level of investment from the city that the residents of East Harlem, Inwood, Far Rockaway, East New York, Jerome Avenue, and other communities facing neighborhood rezonings are given.”
In addition to the lawsuit, three local community groups—Tenants United Fighting for Lower East Side (TUFF-LES), Good Old Lower East Side, Inc. (GOLES), and the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV)—along with Manhattan Community Board 3 announced on Friday that they’ve started the process of seeking a rezoning for the area by filing the initial required paperwork with DCP.
The goal of the groups is to create the Special Lower East Side and Chinatown Waterfront District. Special districts, per the DCP website, “respond to specific conditions; each special district designated by the Commission stipulates zoning requirements and/or zoning incentives tailored to distinctive qualities that may not lend themselves to generalized zoning and standard development.”
The special district designation the community groups are seeking would allow new development in the area, but would require half of all new housing to be permanently rent regulated in line with Two Bridges’ existing annual median income of between $18,387 and $27,684. It would also cap new construction at 350 feet, or a little over one-third of JDS’s proposed tower.
The proposed special district would also require a Certificate of No Harassment as a condition to obtaining approvals from the Department of Buildings for construction in, or demolition of, existing buildings. It would also necessitate that ground floor uses be limited to neighborhood-oriented retail and other community-supportive uses.