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Plan to Revitalize Area of Lower East Side Gets OK

By Patrick Hedlund | January 25, 2011 11:12am
An aerial view of the SPURA site.
An aerial view of the SPURA site.
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NYC EDC / thelowdownny.com

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LOWER EAST SIDE — A broad development plan to revitalize a long-fallow swath of the Lower East Side was approved by a local community board commitee Monday night.

The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA, consists of five undeveloped lots just south of Delancey Street that have sat vacant for more than 40 years after the city razed the site's former tenement buildings and displaced thousands of residents.

Community Board 3's land use committee spent the past three years crafting development guidelines it believed represented the diverse interests of the community, culminating in Monday's near-unanimous vote.

The full board is expected to approve the plan Tuesday night.

A standing-room-only crowd of hundreds packed the Monday night meeting.
A standing-room-only crowd of hundreds packed the Monday night meeting.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

"It's a testament to us building off our success with the [2008] East Village rezoning and really developing relationships and trust with all the different constituencies," CB 3 chairman Dominic Pisciotta said after the meeting, adding that the various parties had to "get out of their comfort zones" for the plan to pass.

The proposal provides for the creation of up to 1,000 residential units, retail space, a potential school, open space, and other features such as a movie theater and a hotel, and the possible relocation of the Essex Street Market.

Throughout the planning process, the most contentious part of the guidelines centered on the breakdown of market-rate versus affordable housing, with the board ultimately recommending a 50-50 split between them.

Under the plan, 50 percent of the units will be set aside for market-rate tenants, 10 percent for middle-income tenants, 10 percent for moderate-income tenants, 10 percent for low-income tenants and the remaining 10 percent for low-income seniors.

Affordable housing advocates, including the neighborhood group Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), had pushed for at least 70 percent of the units to be designated for low-income families.

Many speakers during meeting's public session stressed the need for a maximum amount of affordable housing — some demanding 100 percent — to allow longtime Lower East Siders to remain in the community.

"My sons can't afford to live here," said Joyce Ravitz, a member of the board and 40-year neighborhood resident, whose parents and grandparents came from the Lower East Side.

After the vote, the committee's lone dissenter, GOLES executive director Damaris Reyes, expressed disgust with the outcome.

"It's a sham," she said calling the inclusion of half market-rate units "completely ludicrous."

"In the end I think we should have seized this historic opportunity for restitution," Reyes added. "These numbers are not reflective of the needs of this community."

Nonetheless, local elected officials heralded the community-driven plan for achieving what once seemed impossible.

"From the outset, this process was conducted openly, transparently and fairly and went to great lengths to give voice to the broad range of views that make up our extraordinarily diverse community," read a statement from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who said the guidelines "strike an appropriate balance" among varying interests.

"While there were, at times, deep and principled disagreements among stakeholders, I believe that ultimately this process brought our community together."

Former Board 3 chairman David McWater, who was instrumental in guiding the process through the years, said the development plan would ultimately create affordable housing for 1,500 people, 700 jobs and generate about $200 million annually.

"For 40 years it's divided this community," he said, adding that the board had sought "a place for healing and a place where we can build."

"We have a compromise, and it's a good one."

CB 3 is expected to approve the committee's plan at Tuesday's full board meeting before the proposal can move into the design phase.