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SPURA Development Plan Lands at City Council as Final Approval Nears

By Serena Solomon | September 20, 2012 11:42am

CITY HALL — A plan to develop millions of square feet of residential and retail space on the Lower East Side moved a step closer to reality Wednesday in what was likely the final public hearing on the project.

Local community groups and representatives from the city attended a City Council subcommittee meeting Wednesday to discuss the plan for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA), which would add 1.65 million square feet of housing, commercial space and public parks to a long-vacant series of lots on Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge.

The Council's Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions listened as community stakeholders reiterated their desire for the project to include more affordable housing and measures to prevent a big-box store from entering the development .

The hearing at City Hall was one of the final stops for the proposal in the city’s land-use review process (ULURP), which requires the Council to vote on the plan in the coming weeks before sending it to the mayor for final approval.

"The value of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area site can only be measured in how well we use this piece of public land to serve the community in which is resides," said Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose district covers the several underused block surrounding Delancey Street where the development will be built. 

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city," she added, of one of the few remaining sites Downtown that is ripe for a large development. 

Nearly 45 years ago, the site's former tenement buildings housing 2,000 mostly low-income families were torn down to make way for a development that never came.

This current proposal, developed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development along with the Economic Development Corporation, is the furthest any has come in the city's planning process. Last month the City Planning Commission approved the plan without any modification requests.

Chin commended the plan's inclusion of permanent affordable housing for 50 percent of the 900 units slated for the development. However, once the plan is approved, she requested that developers who want to build more affordable housing be given priority in the selection process.

Of the 450 units set aside for affordable housing, 20 percent will be for low-income earners, with a family of four required to earn less than $49,000 to qualify, according to HPD's Gabriella Amabile. Another 10 percent of the affordable units will be set aside for senior housing, she said.

The Citizens Housing and Planning Council largely supported the current SPURA plan, but requested the limit of 900 units be lifted so more housing could be offered.

"We believe that there is a greater need for housing that accommodates more one- and two-person households," said Jerilyn Perine, executive director of the organization.

Other community groupsm such as the Chinatown Tenants Union, requested an inclusion in the plan limiting retail space to parcels of fewer than 30,000 square feet to ward off big-box stores.

"What we need in Chinatown and the Lower East Side is good jobs and good affordable housing, not Walmart," said the union’s project director, Esther Wang. She expressed concern over the impact a large chain store could have on businesses that already exist in the area.

Wang, who is also part of the group LES United Against Walmart, also requested the project stipulate that future retailers make at least 50 percent of their hires locally.