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New School Could Rise at SPURA Site on Lower East Side

By Serena Solomon | September 27, 2012 5:32pm | Updated on September 27, 2012 6:35pm

LOWER MANHATTAN — A new school could be on the way to the Lower East Side — but the city won't decide whether to build it for at least another five years, officials said Thursday.

The school would be part of the 1.65 million-square-foot mega-development at the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA), a row of Delancey Street blocks that have sat largely vacant for almost 50 years.

The city initially refused to build a new school as part of the long-awaited project, saying the community did not need one.

But after strong advocacy from Community Board 3 and others, city officials recently agreed to set aside 15,000 square feet in the new mixed-use buildings just in case a school becomes necessary in the future, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said.

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, Chin said.

"Now we just have to raise funding [to build and operate the school]," Chin said.

The news about the school was just one of several changes to the SPURA plan that won unanimous support from the City Council's Land Use Committee on Thursday. 

Other alterations include 100 additional housing units bringing the total number to 1,000, half of which will be affordable, and a commitment that the community will continue to have input as the city searches for a developer for the site.

Chin said she was pleased with the the committee's vote in favor of the changes.

"The unifying factor was that everyone wants this project to go forward," Chin said of the hard-won agreement on the plan, which is still awaiting final approval from the City Council and the City Planning Commission. 

Separate from the SPURA plan the city also committeed to constructing an as-yet-unknown amount of affordable housing on a city-owned property nearby, Chin announced. That property will likely be at 21 Spring St.

Another victory community was the announcement that the approximately 2,000 families who were displaced when the original tenement buildings on the SPURA site were torn down in 1967 will have priority for the affordable housing.

Chin said Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Mathew Wambua and city Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky recently wrote a letter making that promise.

"The city is making a commitment to reach out to former site tenants to let them know about housing at the site," Chin said.

The HPD and the EDC did not immediately return an email for comment.

The city also agreed that the existing Essex Street Market vendors will be given the first opportunity to relocate when a new market facility opens, and that the EDC will pay for moving expenses, Chin said. 

The plan is currently making its way through the city’s ULURP review process. Because the committee made modifications, the proposal will return to the City Planning Commission for another vote before heading back to the full City Council.

If the plan is approved by the City Council, the mayor will have the opportunity to veto the final proposal before a developer is sought in a request for proposals process.