Judge overturns development plans to bring luxury skyscrapers to Two Bridges

two bridges towers
Three new megatower developments — with a total of four actual towers — are slated for the Two Bridges area. The building at left has already been erected and interior construction on it is currently being completed.

A state judge granted a petition that nullifies the City Planning Commission’s approval of private developers’ plans to build four luxury “mega-towers” in a two-block area on the Chinatown waterfront.

The area, known as Two Bridges, is surrounded by public housing, Section 8, and other subsidized buildings. The plan approved by the Commission sought to bring four 60 to 100 story towers to the streets encompassed by Cherry Street and South Street.

In 1972, the Two Bridges area was designated as a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area, a district in which the city allows flexibility to the normal land use regulations. This was made to facilitate the most space-efficient and beneficial site plans for large apartment buildings that span over multiple property lots. After learning about the proposed developments, which were approved in 2016, multiple community organizations came together in 2017 to state that if the Commission did not follow the zoning rules at Two Bridges LSRD, they would find themselves in court.

However, the developers of the project stated that the development would only be making minor modifications to existing regulations that do not require ULURP. The developers in turn were required to hold community engagement meetings to discuss the development with the public.

The following year, Tenants United Fighting for the Lower East Side (TUFF-LES), CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and Community Board 3 filed an application with Department of City Planning to rezone the neighborhood according to the Two Bridges Community Plan. The plan, which was made based on recommendations made in 2014 to the Chinatown Working Group, includes rules that would ensure new developments must require affordable housing, impose a height limit, add specific punishment for landlords who harass tenants and force them out, require for open space and public access and limit some commercial uses.

In 2019, TUFF-LES, CAAAV, GOLES, as well as Land’s End One Tenants Association (LEOTA), and the LaGuardia Houses Tenants’ Association, represented by TakeRoot Justice, filed a petition to completely halt the project in 2019.

The judge ultimately concluded in his decision that the Commission was required to do so any time new buildings are proposed for the Two Bridges area because it was planned as a single Large Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area with a specific site plan that is permanently part of its zoning.

“[I]t strains common sense and credulity to characterize anything that would add approximately 2.5 million square feet of new space, four new skyscrapers, and 2,775 new dwelling units as ‘minor modifications,’” wrote Justice Arthur Engoron.

Advocates were elated at the news that the judge decided to put a halt on the project, however they acknowledge that the fight is not over.

“The judge’s ruling shows that residents can, and should be, involved in land use planning decisions that determine the future of their neighborhood. Our fight is not over,” said Elyse Highstreet, Community Organizer at GOLES. “In coalition, GOLES continues to fight for a comprehensive community-driven rezoning plan, The Two Bridges Community Plan, to prevent the building of other luxury megatowers and protect the neighborhood.”

“This ruling should be viewed as a victory for all working-class folks living in New York City,” said Marc Richardson, TUFF-LES board member. “We hope this sends a clear message to developers that we need responsible development that meets the needs of regular New Yorkers who are fed up with out of control profiteering and luxury development.”