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Contentious Seward Park Development Gets Committee Approval

Community Board 3’s Land Use, Public and Private Space committee discusses the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.
Community Board 3’s Land Use, Public and Private Space committee discusses the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

LOWER EAST SIDE — A massive development plan for a swath of land along Delancey Street was approved by the local community board's land use committee Wednesday — despite staunch opposition from some members for the proposal lacking a school and permanent affordable housing.

The Economic Development Corp. presented in March its plan to build the mix-used development, know as Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA), on the underused blocks on the eastern end of Delancey Street.

Discussion of the plan by Community Board 3 Wednesday night left many board members angry, after the committee voted to approve the plan without promising permanent affordable housing and a school, as well as the possibility of a big-box store moving in.

An artist's impression of Seward Park Urban Renewal Area that has been proposed for the Lower East Side.
An artist's impression of Seward Park Urban Renewal Area that has been proposed for the Lower East Side.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

"If our goal here is to make a document that everyone likes, it's not going to work," said David McWater, the committee's co-chair, as he urged members to vote yes on the plan.

“We can make a document that hopefully everyone can live with."

Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, committee members were divided over whether to vote for or against the proposal presented by the EDC for the 1.65-million-square-foot development that would bring apartments, store, office space and community facilities to the area. 

Many also voiced their distrust over the city's planning process, known as ULURP, and the community board's role in it, which is only advisory.

"The city in my mind is screwing this community," said Harvey Epstein, 45, a committee member who also works for the Urban Justice Center. 

"I am angry at you all, at the city for making us go through all this anguish."

Guidelines drawn up in 2011 by Community Board 3 for the development called for a school that would accept students from both district 1 and 2 that Epstein said were designed to ease crowding in both areas. However, the EDC overlooked this recommendation in its plan.  

“Part of our guidelines is for a school,” Epstein reminded committee members before they voted to approve the plan, 14 to 9, with one person abstaining.

The city-owned lots, which mostly house parking lots as well as the Essex Street Market, have been in limbo for more than 45 years since the city tore down tenements there to make way for a development that never went up.

Tito Delgado, a committee member who voted no to the plan, was concerned that permanent affordable housing was one of the CB3 guidelines that had been dropped by the EDC. Instead, 50 percent of the 900 proposed units would remain affordable for only 60 years.

"Why was the permanent affordability dropped? I am having a real problem with it," he said. 

He directed some of his frustration toward City Councilwomen Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez, who spoke before the committee's discussion. They both promised to make affordable housing an issue as the proposal moved through the ULURP process.    

"I have faith that we will get permanent affordable housing, because we will continue this struggle," Chin said. 

After a final vote by Community Board 3's full board next week, the proposal faces additional approval hurdles at the borough president's office, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

If all goes as expected, the city hopes to finalize the plans by the end of the year and begin looking for a developer in the winter.

The community board also will appoint two task force groups to oversee the development as it goes through ULURP.

Louise Velez, 67, who was not part of the committee but addressed the meeting as a lifelong resident of the Lower East Side, said the presence of hotels, big-box stores and expensive apartments would change the neighborhood.

"Today as I come again in front of this board," he said, "please think about our community, our children and the plan that will destroy out community."