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Pols Push Waterfront Developers for Extended Community Engagement

By Allegra Hobbs | March 20, 2017 3:54pm
 The city is assessing three large-scale waterfront developments together in a joint environmental review process.
The city is assessing three large-scale waterfront developments together in a joint environmental review process.
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Handel Architects

LOWER EAST SIDE — Elected officials are pushing the developers of three massive residential towers on the Two Bridges waterfront to give into demands from neighborhood leaders to allow more time for community engagement before beginning the city-mandated review process on the contested parcels — a demand the developers last month shot down as "counterproductive."

Community leaders in January halted an input session on the three large-scale developments slated to rise in their neighborhood to demand developers JDS Development, Starrett Development and Two Bridges Associates allow several more months of discussion with concerned neighbors before kicking off the official review process that would assess the projects' collective impact on the area. 

The developers rejected that demand, stating they believed the delay would be "counterproductive" and that the scoping hearing scheduled for April — which locals want to push back to September — will allow neighbors to get more detailed information on the projects and provide more meaningful feedback. 

But elected officials are now urging developers to reconsider the rejection, arguing an extended community engagement period is needed to allow neighbors to wrap their minds around the environmental review process and changes headed to the area.

"Embarking on community engagement with a community that feels rushed into making decisions on their priorities without adequate information is disingenuous. We require time to create understanding and arrive at consensus about our community’s needs and desirable outcomes; we believe this additional time is critically important to truly meaningful engagement with the community — especially given the highly technical nature of the EIS process," reads a letter dated March 15 from Councilwoman Margaret Chin, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Congresswoman Nydia Valazquez, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou.

Community members fear the collective impact the three developments, slated to rise within a three-block radius in the next five years, will have on their quality of life. JDS is planning a 77-story tower at 247 Cherry St., while Two Bridges Associates plans two towers on a shared base at 260 South St. Starrett is planning a 62-story residence at 259 Clinton St.

In response to community fears, the developers committed to hosting a series of input sessions to gather feedback on areas of concern and to help inform the community about the city's environmental review process. Three input sessions have been held so far, and a fourth will be held sometime after April's scoping hearing.

But community members say they need more time to ensure their concerns are addressed before the scoping hearing kicks off the official review process.

At the scoping hearing, the city's Department of City Planning will assess a draft of the areas of concern to be evaluated through the environmental review process and will gather community feedback. There will be additional opportunities for feedback throughout the environmental review process, developers have stated.

In response to the letter from elected officials, representatives for all three developers doubled down on their earlier response, arguing that continuing with the scoping as scheduled is the best way to allow for meaningful community engagement.

"We share the elected officials' desire for meaningful community engagement, which is exactly why we believe it’s important to start the scoping process and analyze the issues that have been raised," said the developers in a joint statement.

"We have taken part in an unprecedented pre-development process and have gleaned important feedback from three public meetings in the neighborhood and several additional meetings with residents and community groups. Starting the scoping process is precisely what will allow their feedback to be incorporated into the projects' environmental impact analyses. Only once the EIS analysis is underway can questions about impacts be answered, and only then can potential mitigations be decided. For these reasons, we continue to believe that starting scoping as agreed serves community interests better than delaying it."

Chin said she will continue to urge the developers to reconsider.

"Time should not be a luxury for the residents and small business owners who stand to be the most impacted by these proposed developments," said Chin in a statement to DNAinfo New York. "That is why I am joining other elected representatives of this area to call on developers to heed the voices of our community, which are demanding a delay in the scoping process for these massive projects."

Representatives for the developers said the Department of City Planning will decide on the exact date of the scoping hearing. DCP did not immediately return a request for comment.

The letter to developers can be read in full below. 

Elected Officials' Letter to Developers to Delay Scoping by DNAinfoNewYork on Scribd