Court says Two Bridges megatowers can’t rise without land-use review process

Posted On Fri, August 2, 2019 By

Posted On Fri, August 2, 2019 By In Chinatown, Lower East Side, New Developments, Policy

Rendering: Handel Architects.

State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron ruled on Wednesday that four towers planned for the Lower East Side Two Bridges development cannot move forward. The judge’s decision invalidates the City Planning Commission’s 2018 approval of the towers on the grounds that City Council authority regarding the land-use review process was illegally bypassed, amNY reported, and that the controversial skyscrapers must go through the city’s full application process. The ruling prevents the Department of Buildings from issuing permits until the multi-billion dollar project has the proper approvals. The decision represents a rare victory for those opposed to the skyscrapers, including the City Council and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and several Lower East Side and Chinatown community groups.

259 Clinton Street, LES, Two Bridges
Rendering of 259 Clinton Street via Perkins Eastman

As 6sqft previously reported, in January the City Council and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer sued the city and the project’s developers for circumventing the land use review process and the final City Council approval that it requires. Local community groups filed a lawsuit stating that the development should not proceed, ULURP or not, and that one of the towers violates a 32-year-old deed restriction that ensures housing for low-income residents with disabilities and the elderly.

An additional community coalition consisting of Tenants United Fighting for the Lower East Side, Organizing Asian Communities, Good Old Lower East Side, Land’s End One Tenants Association and LaGuardia Houses Tenants’ Association filed a suit against the project as well.

The towers in question include a 1,008-foot rental tower at 247 Cherry Street by JDS Development Group, a 798-foot dual-tower project at 260 South Street by L+M Development Partners and CIM Group and a 730-foot building at 259 Clinton Street by Starrett Corporation. The planned towers would bring nearly 3,000 units of luxury housing to a two-block area–and significant impacts to the Chinatown and Lower East Side neighborhoods.

Last month, a decision by the same judge hinted at the outcome when he ruled to extend a temporary halt on the multi-billion dollar project after hearing testimony on several lawsuits, saying he believed there was merit to the arguments against the development. “These are huge towers,” he said. “I’ve lived in the city my whole life. You can’t just do this because the zoning allows it. I just can’t believe this is the case.”

At the time, lawyers for the city and developers said that “the size of the buildings do not matter here. Although the height is significant, it does not matter because that is what the zoning allowed here in the LSRD.” Justice Engoron responded by calling the size of the proposed towers “an 800-pound gorilla.”

After this week’s ruling, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement, “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.”

Elaine Hoffman, vice president of the Two Bridges Tower Resident Association and a board member of Tenants United Fighting For the Lower East Side, said in a statement, “This is a victory for our neighborhood. When community members join together, we have the power to stop multimillion-dollar developers from trampling on our neighborhoods.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been a proponent of the towers because they would add a significant number of affordable housing units to the city–nearly 700 apartments would be available at below-market rates.

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said in a statement: “We are disappointed by the court’s ruling impacting a project expected to add hundreds of affordable housing units and improve transit infrastructure for the community. We are considering the city’s legal options.”

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Neighborhoods : chinatown,Lower East Side

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