The City is Ignoring the Environmental Impacts of Mega-Towers Along the Waterfront [OP-ED]

Posted on: September 27th, 2018 at 5:00 am by

Photo: SHoP Architects

The following editorial was written by Samuel Moskowitz, who has lived almost his entire life on the Lower East Side and is concerned with the rapid overdevelopment of the neighborhood.

If built as planned, the Lower East Side mega-tower complex of 2,775 apartments will be one of the largest residential developments in New York City.

This project is a part of a larger Lower East Side boom – over 6,300 new residential units – that will add about 20,000 more residents to this neighborhood within just the next few years. Compare this rate of development to the recent rezoning of Inwood, where up to 4,300 new units will be added over the next fifteen years. While Inwood will receive some $500 million in City investment, our community will likely receive a small fraction of that; while Inwood has a comprehensive plan to address environmental concerns, we have none.

Many of the 6,300 units are already on their way, but the final approval of three proposed towers on the Two Bridges waterfront has not yet occurred. This decision lies solely with Mayor de Blasio’s Department of City Planning, which under his appointed Chair Marisa Lago, has seemingly assumed the role of rubber stamp for the mayor’s campaign donors in the real estate industry.

Therefore, the last defense is the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which must examine the impacts of the development and offer solutions to the problems it will cause. Unfortunately, the DEIS was prepared by the developers, in hand with City Planning officials, and there is little indication the document will be held to any sort of environmental planning standard.

Starrett’s 259 Clinton Street

What are the Major Problems with the DEIS?

At first glance, the 820-page DEIS seems like a very official and well-prepared document. Yet it reads like a work of fiction, picking and choosing which data to highlight or ignore to produce desirable results.

It claims to be a holistic study but it completely ignores the impact of the 3,600 additional units within the neighborhood in various stages of development, including Essex Crossing and One Manhattan Square. To show how the supertall towers would not burden the community, it uses a .25 mile study area. But when they need to dilute results to show positive correlations the study area expands to .5- to 1.5-miles.

It even uses the same data to prove mutually exclusive points. It claims Pier 42 and Essex Crossing Sites 3 and 4 as parking lots while noting elsewhere in the DEIS that the parking lot on Pier 42 is being redeveloped as parkland and the lots on Delancey Street are now under development. These lots together comprise 22% of the entire capacity of the study. Even worse, City Planning and the developers have known this fact for over a year but have maintained this position to rush this project forward.

Are these really just sloppy errors? I am going to guess that teams of highly paid consultants, lawyers, city planning experts, and lobbyists, representing potential profits of hundreds of millions of dollars, do not make careless mistakes like these.

Suspect Mitigation Efforts – First Responders, Protecting Existing Residents, and Sewage

The DEIS does not bother to evaluate police or fire protection because it does not deem 2,775 units a “sizable new neighborhood.” This claim is especially disingenuous as it ignores the 3,600 other new units in development. The City’s guidelines require NYPD and FDNY to submit written assessments of the project to determine potentially significant impacts to their operations. This requirement appears to be completely disregarded.

A recent Pratt Center study determined that the methodology used in the City’s environmental review procedure overlooks the residential displacement impact of development. This DEIS confirms that study. It offers nothing to protect existing residents or businesses, simply noting: “the additional population resulting from the proposed projects is not so large as to substantially transform the retail character of the neighborhood.” The DEIS falsely claims that the thousands of foreign investors, trust funders, and finance bros who can afford to buy these luxury condos costing about $1.2-$5.5 million will not change the character of the neighborhood. It would have been easy to request an extension of the City’s Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to cover surrounding areas to prevent unlawful displacement, but it did not.

The DEIS claims that the sewage generated by these developments will have no significant impact on our waterways. However, this project could result in the dumping of up to an additional 44 million gallons of sewage into our waterways each year. Why is this not considered a significant adverse impact?

Impacts on Subways, Buses, and Traffic

The DEIS offers $40 million to upgrade an exit and add an exit and elevator at the East Broadway F train station, but the average subway station rehab now costs $43 million. Why should this community be held hostage in order to get the transportation improvements we have needed for decades? Our City taxes should not subsidize massive corporate profits.

Where are the evaluations of our bus lines? There are none! Why? Because the DEIS makes the absurd claim that this enormous development will not add fifty or more people to a bus line during any one peak hour.

The DEIS claims only ten intersections would face increased congestion and recommends traffic can be fixed by simply retiming the lights and restriping the lanes. This ridiculous suggestion would have almost zero impact on growing congestion. Look at the Grand/Clinton intersection, where traffic has backed-up in all directions since the DOT last changed traffic patterns. In June, 2017 the DOT announced it would conduct a study. Over a year later and we have no study and no results. Even after providing these thoughtless recommendations, the DEIS concedes that increased traffic at some intersections will be left unmitigated. Translation: “We can’t do anything about it. Sorry not sorry.”

What Can You Do About It?

Your last chance to stand up against this process and testify about the major problems and inaccuracies in the DEIS will be at the upcoming City Planning hearing on October 17 at 10:00am at 120 Broadway. This article mentions just some of the major flaws, yet there are plenty more to testify about. In several days the Community Board will release their statement, or consult the 820-page DEIS.

If you cannot attend in person, please submit your written testimony online here, or mail to:

CITY PLANNING COMMISSION
Calendar Information Office – 31st Floor
120 Broadway
New York, N.Y. 10271

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