Seward Park success

After more than four decades of frustrating inaction at the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, Monday night’s vote at Community Board 3’s Land Use Committee, at last, smashed through all the inertia.

Now, finally, this long-vacant eyesore of dirt can be redeveloped with new housing and community amenities, and put back on the tax rolls, generating jobs and revenue for the city.

Of course, the board’s passing the guidelines is just the first step; the Bloomberg administration next will refine the plan — all the while, hewing to C.B. 3’s guidelines — an environmental impact statement (E.I.S.) will be done; requests for proposals (R.F.P.’s) will be issued to developers. SPURA’s redevelopment will be years in the making.

Monday night’s committee vote, followed by Tuesday night’s unanimous full-board vote, were the result of hard work and many hours logged over two years by key C.B. 3 members, local residents and area stakeholders. From the outset, committee chairperson David McWater said he intended to make this process inclusive, so that all stakeholders felt invested in the process. So often before, efforts to redevelop SPURA had crashed and burned. The disconnect between advocates for affordable housing, on one hand, and co-op owners who feel the area already has enough affordable housing, on the other, locked the site in limbo for generations.

McWater and Dominic Pisciotta, C.B. 3’s chairperson, made sure that everyone was onboard. With McWater ever pushing the process forward and Pisciotta acting as a conciliator, they were a persuasive and effective team.

The nearly unanimous 20-to-1 committee vote is a testament to the process. The lone No vote was by Damaris Reyes, executive director of Good Old Lower East Side, who to the end fought for more affordable housing. In a constantly gentrifying Lower East Side, one can’t criticize her or GOLES for advocating for their belief that more affordable housing is sorely needed.

Yet, we feel the approved guidelines are the right compromise. Fifty percent of the housing will be market rate, which will, in turn, subsidize moderate- and low-income housing, including senior housing. Forty percent of SPURA will have retail and commercial uses — but no big-boxes, other than possibly a large movie theater.

This new housing and its population, coupled with retail and commercial uses, will revitalize this part of the Lower East Side, which has basically been “offline” for the past 40 years, and is currently used as a gigantic open-air parking lot. That the area is crying out for revitalization was recognized by the new co-op residents’ group SHARE, which strongly supported the guidelines and played an important advocacy role.

C.B. 3 and its leadership deserve immense credit for defying the naysayers and pulling this off. For McWater, this is his second coup, having spearheaded the East Village / Lower East Side rezoning a few years ago that capped building heights and eliminated the community-facility bonus that allows monster-sized dorms.

Plaudits are also due the Bloomberg administration, which believed in C.B. 3 and nurtured and facilitated this “bottom-up” planning process.

 Our elected officials added to the momentum behind the guidelines’ passage. Notably, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver quickly came out in favor of the guidelines — in fact, he issued his “e-mail blast” support statement two hours before the committee even voted! Similarly, support by state Senator Dan Squadron, Councilmember Margaret Chin and Congressmember Nydia Velázquez was also critical and appreciated.

But Silver’s endorsement was key. With his voter base on Grand St., where he lives, and as the state’s second most powerful elected official, he has always had the power to make or break any SPURA proposal. We’re grateful he was able to balance all the competing interests and endorse this plan wholeheartedly.

We’re thankful to C.B. 3 for leading this model process, and community members and stakeholders for coalescing behind the effort. And we thank our elected officials for their leadership and for recognizing, finally, that the timing is right, and that this is a very good plan — the best plan attainable — that we can expect for this long-fraught site.