City Council OKs Massive LES Redevelopment Plan On Hold for Decades

By Serena Solomon on October 11, 2012 5:23pm 

CITY HALL — In a landmark moment, the City Council unanimously voted Thursday to give final approval to a huge development plan for the Lower East Side that has been delayed for almost half a century.

The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area plan, or SPURA, will see 1.65 million square feet of housing, park and retail space built as well as potential for school on a group of underused blocks near Delancey Street.

The idea for the development has been on the table since tenement buildings were pulled down in 1967 to make way for a highway and other developments that never materialized.

This current SPURA proposal has been meandering through the city's review process known as ULURP for the last few months, receiving approval from Community Board 3, the City Planning Commission and now the City Council with a vote of 48 in favor and zero against. Mayor Michael Bloomberg will now be given a five-day window to veto the plan, but he is unlikely to do so. 

"This is not only a momentous vote, but an example of what we can accomplish when the city and our partners in the community work together," said Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who representes the districts.

Fellow Councilwoman Rosie Mendez also applauded SPURA's approval, adding that it "means hundreds of [housing] units will be coming to an area of manifest need."

The SPURA plan, which will be part of the request for proposals (RFP) when a developer is sought, will include no more than 1,000 new apartments, half of which must be made permanently affordable.

The city has also made a commitment that the community will continue to have input in the process as the city searches for potential developers.

Another recent promise from the city includes setting aside 15,000 square feet in case a school is necessary in the future.

The city will reevaluate the need for a school, and the funding available to build it, in five years, and will keep the potential school space available until 2023, according to Chin, who announced the change in the SPURA plan about two weeks ago.

At the same time, Chin announced the city's commitment for additional affordable housing to be built separate from the SPURA plan. The as-yet-unknown number of apartments will likely be constructed on a city-owned piece of land at 21 Spring St.

Former residents who once occupied the original tenement buildings on the SPURA sites have also been given the promise of priority in any affordable housing in the development provided they meet income criteria.

The development is still years away from being built and former tenants must meet affordable housing income requirements to be eligible.

"This has been a long journey," said Tito Delgado, 60, who lived in the tenements until age 14 when his family was evicted due to the development.

"I feel like we have had a great victory today, but we cannot, as a community, fall asleep because this country has a history of broken promises," he said.

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