During a rally outside New York Supreme Court in Manhattan last week, residents and activists ripped into the presidential ambitions of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Activists say de Blasio, who has been traveling to Iowa in his bid for the White House, is helping real estate developers build four mega towers on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown, an area known as Two Bridges.
Lower East Side Organized Neighbors, an activist group, has sued the city, claiming it violated zoning rules when it approved the development. The group is not alone. Late last year, the City Council and Manhattan borough president also sued the city over the project, which is spearheaded by developer L&M Development, a firm favored by the de Blasio administration.
The suits challenge the City Planning Commission argument that the development doesn’t violate zoning limits because the addition of four towers (one that will rise 1,008 feet — blocking sunlight, dwarfing nearby buildings and sticking out like a sore mega-thumb) and 2,700 mostly market-rate units is a “minor modification” of rules prohibiting major development. Last week, the judge hearing the suit extended a temporary halt to construction until a final determination is made.
How the suits seek to take on the city and developers differ and are crucial for setting the tone for how housing activists can fight gentrification and overdevelopment post-Amazon. The City Council seems to want to force the project to go through the uniform land use review process, for which it has a binding vote. Lower East Side Organized Neighbors doesn’t believe that the review process will stop the displacement it says the towers represent.
Zishun Ning, an organizer with the group, says “instead of stopping displacement, [the review process] has been used by the developer-friendly politicians to greenlight luxury megatowers.”
For years, housing activists have criticized de Blasio for being developer-friendly. The Two Bridges project underscores City Hall’s top-down approach to housing that benefits developers. How can anyone negotiate with a level of arrogance that leads de Blasio to look past New Yorkers to appease his political ambitions? You can’t.
New Yorkers uneasy with the proliferation of luxury towers sprouting up should fight not simply for a better process or a compromise, but to force the city to stop overdevelopment.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist.