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Two Bridges towers under fire over undisclosed deed restriction

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“This is precisely the type of unchecked executive action that ULURP was designed to prevent,” says a lawsuit

In the foreground is a body of water. In the distance are multiple tall skyscrapers and smaller city buildings.
A rendering of the luxury developments set to rise in the Two Bridges area of Manhattan.
SHoP Architects

Part of a contested Lower East Side development will violate a 32-year-old deed restriction meant to permanently ensure housing for low income residents with disabilities and the elderly if the project moves forward, according to new legal documents filed by the New York City Council.

The council and the Manhattan Borough President’s office updated their joint lawsuit to force a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) of three high-rise towers, arguing that the process should be required exactly because of situations such as this.

“The special permit cannot be unilaterally and irrevocably altered by the City Planning Commission without the City Council’s oversight and review and input of the Borough President and local community board,” according to documents filed in New York Supreme Court Thursday night. “This is precisely the type of unchecked executive action that ULURP was designed to prevent.”

A controversial minor modification does not require the massive project planned by JDS Development Group, CIM Group, L+M Development Partners, and Starrett Development to go through ULURP. Overall, the towers will bring some 2,700 new units and 690 apartments earmarked as affordable. The City Planning Commission approved the project in a 10-to-3 vote in December.

But a portion of the tallest tower—planned by JDS and set to rise to a staggering 1,008 feet—at 247 Cherry Street would require a restrictive deed dating back to 1986 be lifted for the luxury skyscraper to rise. The deed mandates that the land be used “in perpetuity for housing for elderly and handicapped persons of low income [as defined under federal law],” according to the suit. City officials say the deed was never disclosed by the Department of City Planning or the developers. DCP did not immediately return a request for comment.

City Council speaker Corey Johnson likened the situation to when Mayor Bill de Blasio lifted a deed restriction in 2015 of a former nursing home for HIV/AIDS patients at 45 Rivington Street. Allure Group purchased the Lower East Side building from the city for $16.5 million—the property was appraised for $64.6 million at the time—only to have the city lift the deed restriction ensuring it remained a health care facility, then sold the site to Slate Property Group for, up until recently, a luxury condo conversion.

“I thought the city had learned its lesson from Rivington, but it appears that would be too much to ask for since it is making the same mistake again with Two Bridges,” Johnson said in a statement. “It is simply unacceptable to put Lower Manhattan through this again and we will fight tooth and nail to ensure the public review process that is mandated by the City’s charter.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer slammed the de Blasio administration for its lack of transparency.

“This is simply an outrage,” Brewer said in a statement. “First the Administration says that massive new development does not need a ULURP, then it slips out that there’s an affordable housing deed restriction for a portion of this development that they never mentioned. I trust that courts will recognize the need for public review and perhaps this time the Administration will learn its lesson.”

A spokesperson for the developers did not respond to questions on the deed restriction, but said the builders “look forward to [the lawsuit’s] dismissal in court and to moving ahead with construction.”