New plans for East Side show promise

Two meetings held by Community Board 3 last week have generated interest in two areas of the Lower East Side that have been too long neglected.

The first meeting concerned the future redevelopment of the Lower East Side waterfront from just south of Delancey St. to the Brooklyn Bridge. Curiouslly, the waterfront on this part of the East Side has not benefitted from a fantastic makeover along the lines of the Hudson River Park.

But that could change.

Four requests for proposals to study different areas, from traffic to urban design to the river’s marine environment have been issued and a team of consultants will be assembled to work with Community Board 3 to shape the best design for the riverfront’s future. For example, whether the F.D.R. viaduct should be lowered to street level — or not, because it might cause too much traffic in surrounding neighborhoods — will be examined. Park uses and ferry connections to other parks, like Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governors Island, will be studied.

This study is a very positive development and shows real vision on the part of Mayor Bloomberg. At the same time, there are legitimate concerns about gentrification and commercialization of the waterfront. Some of this is already being seen with the proposal for a Basketball City operation on Pier 36, which Board 3 will vote on next Tuesday.

Similar concerns and fears surrounded the construction of the Hudson River Park — and still do. However, these concerns could potentially be magnified on the East Side where there is a higher percentage of low-income residents. Basketball City — which promises to provide community time and community discounts — could be an early litmus test of the East Side waterfront’s direction.

Last week at the other significant C.B. 3 meeting, Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Economic Development Corp. representatives presented a new plan for the remaining five Seward Park Urban Renewal Area sites.

The proposal tries to address the two oftentimes competing demands for how these lots should be used: affordable housing versus commercial development.

Though many residents in attendance loudly expressed dissatisfaction with what was offered, and raised fears of gentrification, several veteran housing activists and organizers, from the Cooper Sq. Committee in particular, including Frances Goldin and Valerio Orselli, notably said the plan basically “sounds good.” The activists, as well as the chairperson of C.B. 3, Harvey Epstein, said while the plan could be better, it was a “good first step.”

The H.P.D. and E.D.C. officials said they’d be open to working with a community task force to refine the proposal. That process may make it clearer whether more affordable units should be added. Clearly, the lack of affordable housing has only grown as the area has upscaled.

Overall, the mayor and his administration are to be commended for starting the ball rolling in two areas that are whaere action is long overdue. Redeveloping the waterfront and the Seward Park sites will improve the lives of Lower East Siders.