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Community 'Task Force' Will Inform Vetting Process for Waterfront Towers

By Allegra Hobbs | September 15, 2016 6:09pm
 A 77-story tower from JDS will be right next door to the already growing 80-story Extell tower.
A 77-story tower from JDS will be right next door to the already growing 80-story Extell tower.
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JDS Development Group

LOWER EAST SIDE — A community-driven “task force” including tenant representatives, neighborhood organizations and local business owners will help directly inform the vetting process for a trio of super-tall towers about to rise on the Lower East Side waterfront, officials announced Wednesday.

As promised, the Department of City Planning is instigating an environmental review process for the cluster of developments locals fear will flood their neighborhood with crowds, block their sunlight, overwhelm their infrastructure and drive up property values. 

The process will evaluate the effect the collective developments may have on such factors as public health, infrastructure, and noise pollution in the surrounding area, with the goal of identifying ways to mitigate those impacts.

Though the process itself is required of the developments under city and state law, the review surrounding this specific set of towers will include an intensive community engagement process that officials say is unprecedented due to overwhelming concern surrounding the projects.

In an effort to make community members central to the vetting process, City Planning will host four public hearings on the projects — double the required two hearings under the environmental review process — while elected officials will facilitate the formation of a coalition or “task force” made up of community members that will represent neighborhood interests and help ensure they are addressed throughout the process.

“This is really an opportunity to allow for more community engagement where typically you would not have it,” said Erica Baptiste, Urban Planner at Borough President Gale Brewer’s office, who joined Roxanne Early of Councilwoman Margaret Chin’s office in sharing the news at Community Board 3’s Land Use committee meeting.

The amped-up community engagement is in response to concern from officials and locals about the three large-scale developments set to join the Extell Development Company’s already-growing 80-story One Manhattan Square on the Two Bridges waterfront.

A 77-story residence from JDS Development is slated to go up right next to the Extell tower, while Two Bridges Associates is looking to build on a nearby Cherry Street site and the Starrett Corporation is eyeing a neighboring waterfront parcel. 

Chin and Brewer in July had joined other officials in co-signing a letter to DCP asking the agency to implement the city’s extensive, multi-level Uniform Land Use Procedure (ULURP) process, which would have called for formal review from the community board, the Borough Board, City Council and the mayor before giving the projects the green light.

But DCP’s director in August rejected the proposal, while pledging to take other actions to monitor the developments, including the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement.

The promised four public meetings, which will take place before the finalizing of the statement, will allow community members to interact with and directly inform the scoping process, said a DCP spokesman.

The first meeting will serve as a general introduction to the projects, the EIS process, and the community engagement process, while the second and third will allow locals to identify and address specific focus areas such as shadows cast by the towers, need for open space, transportation and resiliency concerns. The final meeting will seek to identify possible strategies for tempering negative impacts.

The task force, meanwhile, will be formed before the beginning of the environmental review process in hopes a formal body representing local interests will make sure the community’s top concerns are noted and relayed to city reps as well as the developers. 

“We hope [the group] will inform the process, really crystallize what the community’s top concerns are in order of importance to make sure they are addressed through the process,” said Chin spokesman Paul Leonard. 

Community members, still disappointed by the city’s refusal to subject the projects to the ULURP process, are cautiously optimistic the increased community engagement will allow their voices to be heard.

“One of my main concerns is for the people living in this area — we want to make sure they’re voices are heard, because the developments that are proposed are going directly where people live,” said Trever Holland, who represents the tenants of a neighboring below-market-rate tower at 82 Rutgers Slip, who have already expressed fears of developments negatively impacting their quality of life. “It is critical that the voices of those who are being directly impacted are heard.”

The Two Bridges Senior Apartment building, neighboring 82 Rutgers, also sits in the shadow of the developments.

There are no requirements in place mandating the inclusion of affordable housing, according to DCP — another concern of Holland’s and other residents. Of the 600 units planned for the JDS development, the developer has pledged to set aside 150 as permanently affordable. The possibility of other below-market-rate units and other socioeconomic concerns will be addressed during the community engagement process, said DCP. 

The "task force" is still in the early planning stages, said a rep from Chin's office — it is too early to say how many members it will have or when it will be formed.