LOWER EAST SIDE — More than 100 Lower East Side residents packed into a public hearing Wednesday night to voice their views on a massive redevelopment plan for long-vacant lots near the Williamsburg Bridge.
Residents praised the city for finally moving forward on a plan for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area — which has been in limbo for more than 45 years, after the city tore down tenements to make way for a development that never happened — but many called on the city to add more affordable housing and protections for small businesses.
Anthony Feliciano, 34, a lifelong Lower East Side resident and Democratic district leader, said he worried that the new development would raise prices and push longtime residents out of the community.
"I am hoping my son, if he chooses, will be able to live on the Lower East Side," Feliciano said of his 1-year-old. "I do not see that happening in the future the way things are going."
After more than a year of discussions with the community, the city Economic Development Corp. unveiled plans last month to build 1.65 million square feet of apartments, stores, offices and community facilities on the underused city-owned SPURA lots south of Delancey Street, which currently house parking lots.
The development would include 900 new housing units, half market rate and half affordable for the first 60 years, along with a mix of small retail shops and controversial big-box stores.
Many residents slammed the city Wednesday night for not including more affordable housing and not making the apartments permanently affordable.
"Sixty years is a long time, but it's not the same as permanent affordability," said Fran Marino, 66, who has lived on Grand Street her whole life. "Too much affordable housing on the Lower East Side has gone market-rate. This will eventually spell the death of this community."
Still, Frances Goldin, who moved to the Lower East Side 68 years ago, when she was 20, pointed out that the 450 affordable housing units under consideration now are better than the paltry 100 affordable units suggested during a failed SPURA redevelopment attempt in the 1980s.
"We have a plan which is not perfect, but it's better than nothing," Goldin said. "Fifty percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. Let's keep working and see this thing built."
The most popular piece of the city's proposal Wednesday night was the plan to build new office space, which small business owners said would help them attract a broader clientele in an area known for its nightlife.
"This project would create a lot of daytime business," said Andrew Chase, who owns Cafe Katja on Orchard Street. "We need people coming to this neighborhood to work."
Community Board 3 hosted Wednesday night's hearing and will vote on the project next month, and then the proposal faces additional approval hurdles at the borough president's office, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
If all goes well, the city hopes to finalize the plans by the end of the year and begin looking for a developer in the winter.
While the city worked closely with Community Board 3 and local residents to draft the current version of the plan, the residents did not get everything they wanted.
CB3 Chairman Dominic Pisciotta said at Wednesday night's hearing that the community board would continue advocating for permanent affordable housing, a ban on big-box stores, a more detailed plan for hiring locally, a clearer role for the community in the selection of a developer and a new public school.
Also, if the city moves forward with its proposal to build a new, larger Essex Street Market on the south side of Delancey Street as part of the plan, Pisciotta wants the current vendors to be guaranteed a spot in the new space and to be compensated for their move.
Anne Saxelby, owner of the market's Saxelby Cheesemongers, said she would rather remain in her current spot, but if she has to move, she wants to make sure she gets the same amount of space at the same rent she's paying now.
"If those things do not happen, the Essex Market will no longer be the beloved Essex Market we appreciate today," Saxelby said.
The city did not directly respond to residents' concerns Wednesday night but released a statement saying they were taking all of the community's feedback into account.
"We look forward to continuing the unprecedented coordination between the city and community that has been a signature of this process as we move forward through [the uniform land use review procedure] and work to ensure that these sites are not left underutilized for another 45 years," EDC officials said.