In a development that was widely anticipated, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin (along with Speaker Corey Johnson, representing the City Council as a whole) have filed suit in Manhattan State Supreme Court on Friday to prevent the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio from approving three “super-tall” residential developments on the East River waterfront of Lower Manhattan.
This follows a related development last week: approval by the City Planning Commission (CPC) of a streamlined process that would allow all three controversial projects to avoid the full legal scrutiny of the City’s “uniform land use review procedure” (ULURP), and instead move ahead under the less-rigorous standard of review by an environmental impact statement. This was made possible by the CPC’s determination last Wednesday that the additional of four new skyscrapers (one of the three developments contains two proposed towers) 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 Mayr de Blasio) is allowed to stand, it will also preempt the legal authority of the City Council to review, and possibly veto, these projects.
Together, the proposed towers would add more than 2,700 apartments to a single block in the “Two Bridges” neighborhood (thus named because it sits between the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges), more than tripling the number of residences in the area.
Not Smiling Now: In January, City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer attempted to persuade the de Blasio administration to agree voluntarily that the developments proposed for the Two Bridges area called for a heightened level of review. When City Hall rejected this approach last Wednesday, the responded by filing suit on Friday.
In the suit filed on Friday, 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 on Friday 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.”
Mr. Johnson explained that, “the Council is taking legal action to correct mistakes made by the City in trying to rush through a massive multi-site development without the public review process that projects of this size legally require. We expect projects which produce almost 3,000 units of new housing to go through the public review process mandated by the City Charter.”
On Friday evening, a judge declined a request by Ms. Brewer, Ms. Chin, and Mr. Johnson for a restraining order that would stop all further consideration of the project by the de Blasio administration until the underlying suit is decided. But this preliminary, tactical defeat foretells little about the ultimate outcome of the legal action, which is predicated on fundamental issues of the division of power, between the City’s executive branch and its legislature, on questions of land use.
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