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Housing groups in the Lower East Side plan to apply for a rezoning to stop Two Bridges luxury towers

This week, two housing organizations, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities and the Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), announced their intention to apply for a rezoning of the Two Bridges waterfront area in the Lower East Side. They asked that Community Board 3, where the meeting was held, and Borough President Gale Brewer become co-applicants of the proposal.

This plan targets the proposed development of luxury skyscrapers in the Two Bridges area, which includes a 1,008-foot tower by developer JDS, two 700-foot towers by developers L+M and CIM, and a 724-foot structure by Starrett. For these organizations and other local residents, the Two Bridges projects only signal the beginning of a massive redevelopment that will push out low-income residents. In their rezoning proposal, a 350-foot height limit for new buildings would halt all of the tower projects.

These concerns about affordability and exclusion have been heightened after construction began on Extell‘s massive, 847-foot condominium tower One Manhattan Square directly next to the Manhattan Bridge and also located in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Extell’s renderings of the tower’s target audience don’t do much to quell that fear.

Rendering of a master bedroom in One Manhattan Square. (One Manhattan Square)

The proposed rezoning would apply to a long ribbon of waterfront in Two Bridges stretching from Catherine Street to around East 13th Street. Beyond the height restriction, the plan would also require new developments to commit 50 percent of their units as permanently affordable housing, and 55 percent of the new construction on a storage facility site. It would also institute an anti-harassment policy to prevent landlords seeking to demolish or redevelop their buildings from harassing tenants and require special permits for commercial establishments. Finally, the plan would rezone parts of East River Park as parkland, including an existing sports field, piers, and walkways.

This rezoning proposal builds on the ideas generated in the 2014 Chinatown Working Group plan, which was restricted to a more localized area of Chinatown not inclusive of the waterfront after the de Blasio administration claimed the area it covered was too large. This Working Group plan was also bolstered by a host of community groups including GOLES and CAAAV.

Although pursuing rezoning through the application process can cost a great deal of time and money, even after the Department of City Planning’s (DCP) waives fees for community groups like GOLES and CAAAV, both organizations are supported in the legal process by the Urban Justice Center (UJC), which relies largely on foundation support.

Now it is all a matter of timing – the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) takes seven months to move forward, and even then it is not sure whether the City Planning Commission will approve the application.

The proposal will be reviewed by the Community Board 3 Land Use Committee on Wednesday, October 18.

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