On the Lower East Side Waterfront, the Fight is Not Over [OP-ED]

Posted on: April 27th, 2021 at 5:09 am by

The future coastline, Photo: SHoP Architects

The following Op-Ed was written by Tenants United Fighting for Lower East Side (TUFF-LES), a waterfront group aimed at “preserving affordability, appropriate and diverse commercial and residential community development, disaster recovery preparedness, resiliency and environmental quality.”

Fellow New Yorkers, residents of the Two Bridges Waterfront Community: As you may or may not know, since 2016 we have all been faced with the prospect of four mega towers in what little remaining open space we have. These massive luxury spires would block our light, air, and more than double the number of apartments in a two-block radius. At least 75% of these new units would not be affordable to the existing community; and those apartments described as affordable have not been clearly defined by any known standard of affordability.

Therefore, we, other members of our community, and the City Council sued City Planning in 2018 and sought injunctive relief against these developers’ proposals. Our cases had prevailed, and we were granted an injunction in 2019 that effectively stopped the developments. However, the Appellate Division unanimously overturned that ruling from the lower court this past February. This means that the injunction that halted the proposed projects has been lifted, and the developers can move forward with obtaining construction permits from the Department of Buildings (DOB).

Two Bridges Community, the fight is not over! The lawsuit brought by TUFF-LES, GOLES, CAAAV and others argues that the city’s own zoning regulations do not allow for modifications in the Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area without “formal authorization by the City of Planning Commission (CPC) based on specific findings, supported by evidence.” This did not happen under the de Blasio administration’s earlier approval of Two Bridges, which is why Judge Engoron ruled in our favor. The city was required to make sure that the developments met a set of conditions or “findings,” including that it does not drastically alter the neighborhood’s character, population density, or have adverse impacts on light, air, and space.

We are all unified in our opposition to these out-of-context developments. Our community ultimately desires development that serves and meets the needs of our residents.

Communities should always have transparency and should certainly have a process that empowers and enables self-determination. People should always be put at the heart of any public constituency, since all stakeholders are ultimately people. While ULURP provides a significant measure of transparency, the process fails to empower communities sufficiently, nor does it adequately ensure that its most important stakeholders, “the people ” are effectively engaged, particularly when they are so significantly impacted. ULURP was never the solution, but then, neither were the lawsuits. They are not the solution because the developers can simply adjust their proposals and City Planning can simply be more careful to follow the letter of the law next time. Therefore, we need to change the underlying zoning as the existing LSRD zoning does not sufficiently protect against out of context overdevelopment. That is why we’re working to implement the Two Bridges Community Plan.

The Plan would require 50% of units in new buildings to be deeply affordable and that commercial spaces be filled with businesses that serve the community. It would set a 350-foot height limit and have developers agree to not harass tenants. There would be requirements for open space for light and air.

The late John Lewis once said, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” We support protections for every community that is threatened by out-of-control development.

The Two Bridges Community Plan specifically focuses on rezoning the area surrounding these mega towers for a reason. We whole-heartedly support any efforts by others to rezone the broader Lower East Side and Chinatown community. We are focused on the Two Bridges waterfront community because this is the area facing an imminent threat from four new towers and we need to move swiftly. Addressing the immediate threat and the broader problem are not mutually exclusive causes.

Please remain engaged; the fight is not over. The TUFF-LES/CAAAV/GOLES request to review the Appellate Court ruling will likely be decided in the next few months. As we are about to enter an important city election season this year, make sure that you know where the candidates stand on the Two Bridges Community Plan and the fight against luxury overdevelopment.

To stay engaged and in the loop, please join our bi-monthly community meetings. For meeting details please contact us at the following:

Phone: 929-436-2866 Email: twobridgescommunityplan@gmail.com

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