The Fight Against the Two Bridges Towers is Far from Over [OP-ED]

Posted on: September 23rd, 2020 at 5:05 am by

The future coastline, Photo: SHoP Architects

The following editorial was written by the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin would like you to believe the Lower East Side and Chinatown are dead. That she tried courageously to save our community from being demolished by four mega-towers, yet the Appellate court wouldn’t let her prevail.

Though, nothing is further from the truth: the Lower East Side and Chinatown are a prime example of Chin-Mayor de Blasio collusion with big real estate. In the Two Bridges neighborhood, families have suffered the toxic fallout of September 11, coughing up blood for months after the attack and sustaining years of respiratory distress and trauma. The area has a protective layer of zoning against luxury high-rises, known as the LSRD, which barred any building that would harm natural resources and damage neighborhood character.

But that did not stop the de Blasio administration from approving, and Chin facilitating, four luxury mega-towers whose construction would add even more pollution to the environment and cause ceaseless noise. When super-talls were proposed in Two Bridges, Chin misled the community by saying the zoning law had no protection at all, so at best we should extract crumbs from the developers and let the towers rise.

Our community did not weaken. Rather, it has grown in a cumulative struggle against the City’s racism and displacement agenda. In 2008, we marched 10,000 strong against the City when it excluded Chinatown and LES from height limits handed to the whiter, middle class East Village, which would have protected our neighborhood from over-development. In turn, we created and demanded the passage of the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) Plan to prevent luxury high-rises and facilitate housing that was truly affordable to our diverse, working class community. This is how we fight: by unifying Chinatown and LES for equal protection.

Mayor de Blasio rejected the CWG Plan in 2015 as “too ambitious.” Chin followed suit by offering to preserve only a tiny slice of Chinatown as a gimmick in the long fight for our neighborhood, leaving Two Bridges along with the rest of the area, vulnerable to over-development. As the old saying goes, she had been getting her ducks in a row. By contrast, Christopher Marte, the candidate for City Council District 1 who, as a freshman to politics, came only 200 votes behind Chin in the 2017 election, has been part of the ongoing movement to pass the full CWG plan to stop displacement. Supporting him is part of advancing that movement because unlike Chin he supports what the community wants.

The neighborhood saw right through Chin’s misinformation regarding the zoning law and her apparent clamoring to sell off the neighborhood. We built a lawsuit based on the facts, illustrating how the City violated its own law in approving out-of-scale towers that would harm the environment and the community’s health. Not to mention, raise real estate taxes and rents, resulting in mass displacement of residents and workers, and mom-and-pop stores that were irreplaceable fixtures in our community.

Environmental scoping session, January 2017

This lawsuit–led by the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors (LESON) and the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side–garnered thousands of supportive signatures and was part of a much larger struggle that included organizing rallies, marches in freezing weather, meetings among neighbors and community groups, research and interviews with plaintiffs and lawyers, and countless hours of outreach in buildings, on the streets, and in workplaces. More than just a lawsuit, the community united across races and trades to hold the City accountable.

It was only then that Councilwoman Chin, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Speaker Corey Johnson jumped on the bandwagon and sued the City, too. They did not sue to stop the towers, but rather to put them through a charade of democracy known as ULURP–the land use process awarding City Council voting power on the buildings. Chin had stated she planned to use ULURP to bargain for concessions from the developers and let the towers rise.

In short, Chin says the towers can be built as long as they go through the City Council vote. We say the towers cannot be built because they are illegal. No wonder the appellate court overturned Chin’s case; they don’t see the necessity of having an additional process leading to the same result. In the ruling, even the judges stated that if the City Council had wanted, they could have changed the zoning so that the towers never could have been built, making the community’s argument for the CWG Plan.

Our lawsuit won in New York State Supreme Court, reversing the City’s approval of the towers in a historic win for the whole community. At present, the appeal of the community’s lawsuit is pending and the injunction we won against the towers remains in effect.

Chin’s loss serves as a reminder that we should not depend on corrupt politicians to save our community from displacement and real estate speculation.

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