Developers pitching towers in Two Bridges commit to funding transit and open space upgrades

Two Bridges residents push back against plans for three proposed projects that would result in four new tours, despite developers' committment to fund subway and park upgrades.
Two Bridges residents push back against plans for three proposed projects that would result in four new tours, despite developers’ committment to fund subway and park upgrades. Photo Credit: Victor J. Blue/New York Times / Victor J. Blue

Four planned towers are ill-positioned to build bridges between the 2,775 new apartments and the surrounding Two Bridges community, residents told city planners.

At a City Planning Commission hearing Wednesday, developers and their representatives detailed plans to integrate the towers and their occupants into Two Bridges by upgrading the East Broadway F train station, revamping nearby playgrounds and implementing flood protection measures.

Lower East Side residents and leaders questioned whether the mitigation measures would be sufficient, given that the developers’ draft environmental impact study concluded the projects would not present significant displacement risks because the bulk of the area’s apartments are in buildings protected by rent regulations or other government programs.

"The guidelines for measuring indirect residential displacement, a major concern for our residents, are particularly flawed, and in this area, does not consider the 88 percent of units in buildings that have at least one unit protected by rent regulation," said MyPhuong Chung, the chair of the local community board’s Land Use Committee, while noting that some 950 regulated units have gone market-rate over the past decade. "The rent-regulated housing in these proposals will not begin to address the displacement threat that we would see."

The city is examining the impacts of the three projects collectively, since they fall within one large-scale residential development area. Starrett Development is looking to build a 765-unit rental building at 259 Clinton St. L+M Development Partners is partnering with CIM Group on a plan for two towers, with some 1,350 rental units, at 260 Cherry St. And JDS Development aims to construct a 660-unit rental building above an affordable senior housing complex owned by a group affiliated with the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council.

Collectively, the projects would introduce nearly 10,900 square feet of retail space, nearly 22,800 square feet of green space and up to 694 below-market-rate apartments — 200 of which would be for seniors.

Although affordable housing parameters have not been finalized, developers indicated in their study that they would like to participate in a tax benefit program that involves setting aside 10 percent of units for those earning up to 40 percent of the area median income; 10 percent, up to 60 percent of the metro AMI; and 5 percent, up to 120 percent of the metro AMI.

"The three proposed projects will deliver approximately 700 much-needed units of permanently affordable housing, representing one of the largest infusions of affordable housing in Manhattan in decades and a critical addition amid the ongoing housing crisis," the developers said in a statement. "At the same time, the proposed developments include investments that will provide genuine and lasting benefits for current residents of the neighborhood."

Attorney Wesley O’Brien, who helped the developers on their plans, said they would jointly spend $40 million adding an entrance to the East Broadway station at Rutgers and Madison streets, widening the platform stairs and adding an elevator to the station. The firms would also collectively contribute $15 million toward upgrading parks and playgrounds in the area, according to O’Brien.

"It would be on the applicants to make sure that the work gets done in that time frame," O’Brien said, while saying the MTA had determined these plans were feasible. "We would not be able to pull certificates of occupancies for the new buildings until that work is complete."

The City Planning Commission will review comments received through Oct. 29 on the developers’ plans for mitigating adverse impacts anticipated from their projects. Once the review is finalized, the commission will then vote on the matter, although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must also OK JDS Development’s plans because they would involve relocating 19 residents in the federally overseen senior-housing project during construction.

City Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have put forward a zoning change that would require any development in the Two Bridges area to obtain a special permit. That would involve a more robust public review and culminate in a City Council vote.

It is unclear when the lawmakers’ idea will advance, and whether it could be approved and implemented before the city finishes reviewing the proposals put forward by the developers.