Two Bridges project needs public review: Judge

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON Updated Fri., Aug. 2, 6:30 a.m.The Two Bridges megaproject does not get a pass from the city’s ULURP public-review process.

That was the ruling by a State Supreme Court justice, who on Thursday decided in favor of a lawsuit on the Lower East Side megaproject filed by the New York City Council and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The Two Bridges megaproject includes an 80-story building by JDS Development Group, 62- and 69-story towers by L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group, and a 63-story tower by Starrett Group.

Three new megatower developments — with a total of four actual towers — are slated for the Two Bridges area. The copper-colored building by the Manhattan Bridge, developed by Extell, at left, has already been erected and interior construction on it is currently being completed.

Three years ago, Department of City Planning staff said that the proposed projects in Two Bridges, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges — which would rise as tall as 80 stories — were merely “minor modifications” to the site’s existing large-scale residential development, or L.S.R.D., zoning. L.S.R.D. zoning lumps multiple projects together as one plan and allows “modification by discretionary action” of City Planning.

Last December, the City Planning Commission voted to green-light the three-tower project. City Planning plugged the projects’ benefits, emphasizing that nearly 700 of its 2,775 units would be affordable.

However, two days later, Brewer and the City Council filed suit against the de Blasio administration, holding that the “minor modification” argument was absurd, and that the project must go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure a.k.a. ULURP.

A ULURP review can take up to seven months or more and mandates a public hearing at the local community board level, plus reviews by the borough president, City Planning and City Council, the latter two which have the binding power to approve or disapprove projects.

Early Thursday evening, Brewer, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmember Margaret Chin issued a joint press release with statements on Justice Arthur Engoron’s ruling.

According to the politicians’ statement, the court found that “[T]he irreparable harm here is twofold. First, a community will be drastically altered without having had its proper say. Second, and arguably more important, allowing this project to proceed without the City Council’s imprimatur would distort the city’s carefully crafted system of checks and balances. Under ULURP, the City Council’s mandatory role is not merely to advise, but to grant or deny final approval (with the mayor). Without ULURP, the city’s Legislature is cut out of the picture entirely.”

Lower East Siders made their opposition to the Two Bridges megaproject known at meetings on the plan last year. (File photo)

Johnson said, “The Council has for years said this project — which would totally transform the Two Bridges neighborhood — requires public review and ultimately City Council approval. We’re very grateful that the State Supreme Court agreed and that the community, the borough president and the City Council will have an opportunity to provide real input and help shape the future of this neighborhood.”

Brewer said, “I’m so gratified that Judge Engoron has ruled in our favor, and that the Two Bridges developments — which will have a ‘huge’ impact on the neighborhood — must undergo the ULURP process. I’m grateful that Councilmember Chin and Speaker Johnson came together to support our suit and we were successful.”

The project site is located in Chin’s Lower Manhattan Council District 1.

“Judge Engoron’s ruling is a victory for the Two Bridges community and demonstrates the power of everyday New Yorkers when they come together and fight,” Chin said. “For three years, we have rallied and petitioned. As a final step, we sued the city to trigger the public-review process that the proposed megatowers in Two Bridges demanded.

“Through it all, I was motivated by a single goal — ensuring that the residents of Two Bridges have a say in the future of their neighborhood,” Chin stressed. “Judge Engoron’s decision vindicates our efforts and, just as importantly, empowers the voices of those most impacted by the displacement and gentrification of the proposed megatowers.

“I want to thank Speaker Johnson for his inclusive and courageous leadership and Borough President Brewer for her invaluable partnership,” the councilmember added. “Finally, I want to extend my gratitude to the Two Bridges community for their steadfast commitment to the public-review process.”

However, local community groups that have been battling the project — and who have also filed their own lawsuit against it — expressed skepticism that Thursday’s ruling will, in the end, have much impact. The groups, Lower East Side Organized Neighbors (LESON), and the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, released a hard-hitting statement on the judge’s decision to proceed with a ULURP, and slammed Chin as ineffective in fighting the towers.

“While a blanket approval of development would have been the worst possible outcome of this decision, the community is not deceived into believing that a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure is any kind of victory,” the groups said.

They decried as “cheap buyouts” the transportation upgrades, park perks and infrastructure improvements that the developers have promised as givebacks to the community.

“Investments in our neighborhood should not be bargaining chips used to price out residents,” they said. “These crumbs will be sprinkled on the grave of our displaced community. No matter if a playground is repainted or a sidewalk repaved, the influx of thousands of new residents will overburden any structural investments. Even more serious is the massive displacement that will be caused by over 2,000 market-rate units being constructed in the last working-class community of Lower Manhattan.

“Chinatown and the Lower East Side, already rampant with landlord harassment may not be able to survive the environmental burden of such massive construction, nor the financial burden of increased property values,” they warned.

“We will not be placated by Councilmember Chin’s false declaration of victory,” the community groups’ statement continued. “Her control over the land-use process ushered in the overdevelopment of Greenwich Village by N.Y.U., and we do not trust her to broker any kind of agreement with luxury developers. The stakes could not be higher, and no amount of concessions will reduce the fatal blow four skyscrapers will be to the Two Bridges area and the neighborhood at large.”