Brewer, Chin, and Community Groups Tell Mayor: See You in Court
Borough President and City Council Member to Hold Rally This Morning to Underscore Objections to Planned Development at Two Bridges
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Margaret Chin will hold a rally today (Wednesday, June 5), starting at 9:00 am, outside the Municipal Building to build support for their ongoing lawsuit against the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, over City Hall’s plans to erect a string of super-tall towers along the East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan.
Ms. Brewer and Ms. Chin, along with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, filed suit last December to stop a package of four proposed residential highrises, which will bring a total of more than 2,700 new apartments to the community situated between the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, more than tripling the number of residences in the area.
At issue is the approval granted by the City Planning Commission (CPC) of a streamlined process that would allow all of the controversial projects to avoid the full legal scrutiny of the City’s “uniform land use review procedure” (ULURP), and instead move ahead under a less-rigorous standard of review, limited to an environmental impact statement. This was made possible by the CPC’s determination in December that the addition of four new skyscrapers, reaching as high as 1,000 feet, qualifies as a “minor modification” to existing zoning for the area. If this claim by the CPC (which is controlled by Mayor de Blasio) is allowed to stand, it will also preempt the legal authority of the City Council to review, and possibly veto, these projects.
In their lawsuit, Ms. Brewer and Ms. Chin argue that, “such developments are required to be completed with the consultation and advice of the community, including the New York City Council, the Borough President and the Community Board.” They also charge that, “aside from the clear and incontrovertible statutory requirements mandating the application of ULURP, [the City’s] claim that this application, which includes the addition of more than 2,700 dwelling units in three skyscrapers on a single block, is simply a ‘minor modification’ is nothing short of irrational, arbitrary and capricious and is incorrect as a matter of law.”
Ms. Brewer said shortly after the suit was filed that, “City Planning’s staff and the Commission have exceeded their legal authority. They used a made-up process and made-up standards to approve these towers without the full land use review and Council approval that’s required. I don’t like suing the Mayor or his agencies, but if that’s what it takes to get the residents of Two Bridges the full review and real negotiation they’re entitled to under the law, then I’m all in.”
Ms. Chin added that, “this lawsuit was made necessary by the actions of the Department of City Planning and this Administration. My colleagues and I could not stand by as an entire neighborhood’s worth of rezoning was categorized as a ‘minor modification.’ The residents of Two Bridges deserve a full public review process and I will not rest until they receive it.”
In February, Ms. Brewer’s and Ms. Chin’s legal action took on a new dimension, when lawyers representing the Borough President and the City Council uncovered decades-old legal covenants meant to ensure that one of the development sites would remain set aside for the elderly, low income residents, and those with disabilities, in perpetuity. The possible abrogation of this deed restriction, “is akin to the City’s disastrous decision to lift a deed on a parcel of land at the former Rivington House in 2015,” according to revised court papers. This was a reference to the controversial move by the de Blasio administration to sell to a private developer (at a fraction of its market value) a building that had been dedicated to the care of people suffering from AIDS. That developer then closed the facility and sold the building (at a profits of tens of millions of dollars) to another real estate operator, who moved ahead with plans for a market-rate, high-rise condominium.
“Like Rivington, which is in the same Council District as Two Bridges, the lifting of the deed would negatively impact a community struggling to remain affordable for all New Yorkers,” the updated lawsuit alleges.
In March, a second lawsuit was filed by a coalition of community groups, who allege that the planned developments will cause irreparable harm to their neighborhood. The group, which includes the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors, the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, and the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, argues in their court filings that the proposed buildings, “are a catalyst for cumulative environmental damage to the broader Lower East Side and Chinatown neighborhood and beyond.”
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