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The Answer for Two Bridges is Rezoning

December 10, 2018

Residents already have the solution: enact their community-created plan to ensure long-term protections for the neighborhood

Last Wednesday morning the City Planning Commission (CPC) voted 10-3 to approve the four proposed “megatowers” along the East River waterfront of Manhattan’s Two Bridges neighborhood – bringing over 2,000 new luxury apartments to the currently low- and moderate-income neighborhood despite massive opposition from residents, advocates and elected officials alike. This opposition stems from both the proposals themselves and the fashion in which they were considered, one that did not properly follow the rules for approving a development of this scale. In response, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Councilmember Margaret Chin, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced a lawsuit on Friday asking that CPC’s decision be overturned for denying the public their right to a full public review under ULURP – taking a forceful stand for just, equitable and community-led development.

But even these legal questions aside, here’s the most important point: these towers are a dangerous fit for the Two Bridges neighborhood regardless, one whose harm will far out weigh their benefits and create a future starkly different than the diverse, inclusive neighborhood that exists there today. This should have been ample reason alone for the CPC to vote no.

Fortunately, there is a clear way forward. There is a way to still allow new growth in the area while ensuring it is appropriately targeted to the neighborhood and achieves more affordable housing for the city in the process. The answer is a proposed rezoning that local groups GOLES, CAAAV, TUFF-LES and Manhattan Community Board 3 have filed with the Department of City Planning that would enact a special district on the Two Bridges area. This proposed Special Lower East Side and Chinatown Waterfront District is not a new idea, but comes out of a ten-year long process of community-led planning involving over 50 local groups working in collaboration, reflecting the community’s long-term vision for itself.

The proposed special district would not change the total amount of development that could be built in the area; it would simply change how that development looks and functions to ensure it truly serves the community by limiting heights at 350 feet and requiring half of all new units to be permanently affordable at income levels that serve current residents. The special district would include additional rules designed to protect the neighborhood’s mixed income residential character and bring in amenities those living there sorely miss, such as the grocery store that closed several years ago to make way for the luxury Extell tower One Manhattan Square.

This is a plan that deserves a fair hearing by the City, the same type of hearing that is granted to private developers all the time when they apply for rezonings of their own. Unlike the megatowers, this proposed special district rezoning would go through ULURP, with public hearings and review sessions and would be voted on by elected representatives after they’ve had a chance to hear further from the community. This is exactly what the City Council and Manhattan Borough President are fighting for now in their lawsuit: the chance for the community to have a real voice in determining the future of their neighborhood. The proposed rezoning, through its decade long envisioning process by an array of stakeholders, has done a significant part of this work already. The answer seems clear: the rezoning is the best way to achieve a community-led plan and help ensure Two Bridges remains a neighborhood that’s welcoming and inclusive of all.

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