Lower East Side, Chinatown residents sue to stop tower developments based on ‘Green Amendment’

Chinatown and Lower East Side residents sue to stop mega development
Bethany Li speaks at a press conference on Oct. 21, 2022.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) held a press conference on Oct. 21 detailing a lawsuit they filed against the city and developers of the Two Bridges Project on behalf of City Councilmember Christopher Marte (D-Manhattan), the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, and community residents.

With the lawsuit, Lower East Side and Chinatown residents are attempting to block the construction of the Two Bridges Project, put forth by Cherry Street Owner LLC, Two Bridges Senior Apartments, L.P., Two Bridges Associates, L.P., and LE1 SUB LLC, which includes an 80-story tower at 247 Cherry St., two towers of 69-stories and 62-stories at 260 South St., and a 63-story tower at 259 Clinton St.

The suit argues that construction at this scale violates the “Green Amendment,” which New Yorkers approved last November. The amendment guarantees each person’s right “to clean air and water, and a healthful environment,” and the lawsuit is the first time the “Green Amendment” has been used to stop the construction of a “mega project.”

The plaintiffs assert that the large-scale Two Bridges Project would exacerbate respiratory, cardiovascular and mental health issues already suffered by community residents, many of whom are Black, Latino and Asian American.

“We’re here today to put an end to environmental racism — something that this community has experienced for generations,” Marte said. “The reason why they’re allowed to build these developments and do what they want is because the city hasn’t passed protective zoning to care for our district, not only the residents but also the small businesses. And what we’ve seen across the Lower East Side, from Jacob Riis Houses to East River Park to now the Two Bridges, is that the developer colludes with the city to only care about profit, but not people. But we’re here today with this lawsuit to put an end to that.”

City Council Member Christopher Marte announces suit to stop mega development
City Councilmember Christopher Marte speaks at a press conference on Oct. 21, 2022.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Bethany Li, legal director of AALDEF, pointed out that asthma had disproportionately impacted residents in the neighborhood after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and that the asthma rates in this neighborhood were higher than any other in the city because of all of the toxic fumes that continue to linger from gasoline storage units, gas stations, and environmental toxins that were dumped in the Lower East Side.

The Lower East Side was once “home” to countless automobile repair shops and gas stations, resulting in oil spills and soil and groundwater contamination. The 9/11 attacks greatly impacted Chinatown and the Lower East Side due to their close proximity to the toxic cloud of dust and fumes resulting from the World Trade Center’s collapse.

“In recent years, the rates of emergency room visits due to asthma has more than doubled that of other neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan,” Li said. “The air pollution that comes from this construction will further exacerbate all of the respiratory illnesses that residents in this community have already been suffering as a result of 911 and the pandemic.”

Barbara Kempe, a resident of Two Bridges for 22 years and a plaintiff, shared that the construction of the Extell Tower, an 800-foot skyscraper on the Lower East Side, exacerbated her asthma because of the increased levels of soot and dust.

“Why are these towers being built here when they wouldn’t be allowed in other communities?” Kempe questioned. “The only answer that makes sense is that our leaders don’t think existing residents of our community are worth protecting. That is classist and racist. We deserve the same protection as the families in other neighborhoods have.”

Louise Velez has been a resident of the Jacob Riis housing for the past 38 years and shared that residents at Jacob Riis were fighting rats, mold, and leak problems. She and her granddaughter have asthma because of the car exhaust from the FDR drive. She also pointed out that Jacob Riis had the highest lung cancer rate within the New York City Housing Authority.

“And now they want to build four mega towers on the East side waterfront,” Velez said. “That will cause more environmental problems and destroy people’s homes.”

She called on New York City Mayor Eric Adams “stop the racist attack on our community.”

amNewYork Metro reached out to the developers behind the Two Bridges Project, but did not receive a response prior to press time. We will update this article once a comment is received.