State’s Highest Court Blocks Suit by Brewer, Chin Opposing Two Bridges Plan
An architectural rendering of the four new residential towers proposed for the Two Bridges neighborhood, which would contain more than 2,700 apartments. The tower at left, closest to the Manhattan Bridge, is already largely complete, while the four to the right have sought permission to begin construction.
On Tuesday, the New York State Court of Appeals effectively ended a lawsuit begun in 2018, in which Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin sought to compel the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to subject several massive residential developments planned for the Lower East Side to the highest-possible degree of legal scrutiny. New York’s highest judicial review panel upheld an August ruling by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, which itself had overturned a 2019 lower-court decision favoring Ms. Brewer and Ms. Chin.
At issue is a cluster of super-tall residential towers proposed for the Two Bridges neighborhood of East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan. The central legal dispute focused on the approval granted by the City Planning Commission (CPC) to a streamlined review that would have allowed all three of these controversial projects (which include a total of four new towers, reaching as high as 1,000 feet) 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, 2018, that the addition of four new skyscrapers to the community situated between the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges (which would more than triple the number of residences in the area) qualified as a “minor modification” to existing zoning for the neighborhood. This position by the CPC (which is controlled by Mayor de Blasio) preempted the legal authority of the City Council to review, and possibly veto, these projects.
The four towers proposed by developers (visible on the right) are described by City Hall as “minor modifications” to nearby (and much smaller) existing structures.
Within days of the CPC’s determination, Ms. Brewer and Ms. Chin filed suit against the de Blasio administration, arguing 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 charged 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.”
New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron handed down his original decision in this case, ruling in favor of Ms. Brewer and Ms. Chin, in August, 2019. He focused upon the issue of whether such large-scale, potentially transformative development qualified as a minor change to the fabric of the community. In this context, he also emphasized the issue of gentrification in Two Bridges, because the City’s environmental review standard allows for consideration of what it calls, “indirect residential displacement,” and whether, “a proposed project may either introduce a trend or accelerate a trend of changing socioeconomic conditions that may potentially displace a vulnerable population to the extent that the socioeconomic character of the neighborhood would change.”
City Council member Margaret Chin (left) and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (center) at a June, 2019 rally called to build support for their lawsuit against the de Blasio administration’s development plans for the Two Bridges community.
The City argued that because nearly 700 of the new apartments would be set aside as affordable, gentrification in the Two Bridges community would actually be slowed, relative to what would happen if the projects were not built.
Judge Engoron disagreed, ruling that the, “irreparable harm here is two-fold. First, a community will be drastically altered without having had its proper say. Second, and arguably more important, allowing this project to proceed without the City Council’s imprimatur would distort the City’s carefully crafted system of checks and balances. Under ULURP, the City Council’s mandatory role is not merely to advise, but to grant or deny final approval (with the Mayor). Without ULURP, the City’s legislature is cut out of the picture entirely.”
The coalition of three developers who hope to build the towers appealed Judge Engoron’s decision, however, and were granted a hearing last June, at which two judges pursued a line of questioning that evinced deep skepticism about the lower court’s verdict. Their queries focused on the technical issue of whether a “special permit” approved by the City for Two Bridges neighborhood in 1995 (authorizing a variance in zoning codes) should automatically trigger ULURP when authorizing new projects. By statute, it must—but attorneys for the developers argued that the amount of time that has passed since made the question irrelevant, thus rendering ULURP unnecessary.
A schematic from the Municipal Art Society illustrates the impact that the scale of the proposed new developments will have on the existing community of low-rise buildings.
The Appellate Division issued its full ruling in August, overturning Judge Engoron’s decision, and finding that, “the buildings described in the applications did not conflict with applicable zoning requirements and that, therefore, the CPC’s approval of the applications has a rational basis and is not contrary to law.” The decision, written by Associate Justice Ellen Gesmer, continued, “specifically, we find no error in CPC’s determination that the project did not require a special permit, and was therefore not subject to ULURP.” Judge Gesmer also noted that, “in reaching this result, we are mindful of petitioners’ concerns that their constituents have had limited input on the proposed development’s potential effects on their neighborhood, including increased density, reduced open space and the construction of a large number of luxury residences in what has been a primarily working class neighborhood of low- to medium-rise buildings. However, existing law simply does not support the result petitioners seek.” It was this ruling that was upheld (without comment) by the Court of Appeals on Tuesday.
This follows a related development in February, when the Appellate Division reversed another decision by Judge Engoron, in which he ruled in favor of a coalition of community groups, who are seeking (in a separate lawsuit) to nullify the CPC’s approval of the Two Bridge’s developments. The Court of Appeals has not yet issued a decision affirming or overturning the Appellate Division’s recent finding.
Getting Squeezed Coming and Going
Washington Okays Congestion Pricing Program that Local Leaders Fear will Penalize Lower Manhattan Residents
The prospect of Lower Manhattan residents being penalized for the privilege of driving to or from their homes moved a step closer to reality on Tuesday, when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sent word to City and State officials that they would allow the congestion pricing plan, devised by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, to move forward under the less rigorous of two possible environmental oversight standards.
The FHWA, an arm of the federal Department of Transportation, decided to allow New York to move ahead under the looser benchmark of an environmental assessment, rather than a full environmental impact statement. “An Environmental Assessment generally requires less time to complete than an Environmental Impact Statement, should no significant impacts be identified,” the agency said in a statement. To read more…
To the editor:
In support of DOT returning the space under the Brooklyn Bridge for the skateboarders to use, the newly opened Peck Slip Park has now turned into a skateboard park.
The design of the new park is a skateboarders dream with sleek pavers. The children in the area, especially the school children, are now in danger of being hurt. Unfortunately the new park was poorly designed.
Governor Opens Hurricane Maria Memorial
On Friday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the opening of the Hurricane Maria Memorial in Battery Park City, located at the corner of Chambers Street and River Terrace. Mr. Cuomo made this announcement at an unrelated event in the Bronx, which was closed to the press, as has become the embattled Governor’s custom in recent weeks, while he faces multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, along with allegations that his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic led to thousands of deaths in New York that might otherwise have been prevented. To read more…
Pearl of Wisdom
Brewer Pushes for FiDi Thoroughfare to Be Made Pedestrian-Friendly in Perpetuity
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is pushing the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand and make permanent a trial implementation of the Open Street program in Lower Manhattan. Since last summer, the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has each day restricted vehicular access to Pearl Street, between Broad Street and Hanover Square, from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm and again from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm To read more…
Alliance For Downtown New York Hosts 2021 Shred-A-Thon
And Clothing Drop-Off
After a year like the one we all just endured and the promise of a brighter day emerging, the idea of “spring cleaning” takes on new energy and meaning.
Now is the time to round up all the old clothes and unwanted documents that have been piling up and bring them over to Fulton Street (between Cliff and Gold Streets) for the Downtown Alliance’s annual dual shred-a-thon and clothing drop-off Saturday, April 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A shredding truck parked on Fulton Street will securely dispose of and recycle all your sensitive documents, tax receipts, junk mail and old bills.
The Alliance is also partnering with NYC clothing recycler Wearable Collections, which is providing a bin to collect all dry, used clean clothing including shoes, sneakers, belts and hats, as well as household items such as linens, towels and handbags.
Rain or shine, the Alliance will be there to dispose of your much-loved old outfits and no-longer-needed memories, minus a few items (e.g., carpeting, rugs, bath mats, comforters, pillows, large luggage). This spring will be even sweeter when you’ve got some extra space.
A growing population of COVID-19 patients report lingering effects of the infection, even after primary symptoms have resolved. This condition estimated to affect up to 25% of patients, termed Long COVID or Long-Haul COVID, has not yet been formally defined. Further, scientists cannot accurately predict which patients will become COVID “Long Haulers” despite the severity of illness or other demographic factors. This 75-minute webinar will explore the symptoms and epidemiology of Long COVID, with a focus on current knowledge of demographics, risk factors, and prognosis. $10.
Online concert. During trying times, music stills our souls and provides a healing grace. Throughout the season of Lent, Comfort at One will present performances that are inspired by the Gandhi quote: “In the midst of darkness, light persists.” These concerts include improvisations by Julian Wachner, light-inspired Bach cantatas, our 2014 Lenten “Lamentatio” series featuring NOVUS NY and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, new performances from the Trinity Youth Chorus and St. Paul’s Chapel Choir, and new virtual content on Fridays from our extended family of artists. Free
In this lecture, Michael Hattem will discuss his book Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution. Between the 1760s and 1800s, Americans stopped thinking of the British past as their own history and created a new historical tradition that would form the foundation of what future generations would think of as “American history.” This process, Hattem argues, played a critical role in the founding of the nation. This lecture will take place via Zoom. $5
Local Leaders Get Irredentist to Reclaim Park Space Dispossessed for a Decade
Community Board 1 (CB1) wants the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to give back park space beneath the Brooklyn Bridge that was “temporarily” closed more than a decade ago. The area, informally known as “Brooklyn Banks,” is an iconic destination for skateboarders, because the streetscape provides an undulating terrain of ramps, rails, ledges, and jumps. Long before any of these stunts were legal in New York, boarders from around the United States would come to the City to compete there, and connect with one another. To read more…
CLASSIFIEDS & PERSONALS
Swaps & Trades, Respectable Employment, Lost and Found
Matt Keating is a singer/songwriter who lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife Emily. In a recent post on Facebook, he described his friendship with a man who took shelter outside his building, and how he helped this man receive his federal stimulus check.
This is my neighbor Jamal. We became friends about a month ago when I met him taking shelter outside of my building under the construction scaffolding that’s been put up for a while now. He is currently without a home and asks politely for any help from me whenever I walk by so I started giving him something every once in a while whenever I had it. He was very grateful and we struck up a conversation about politics and the current situation of inequality in this country.
About two weeks ago, as Emily and I were leaving to do our weekly visit to the Union Square Farmers Market, he came up to us and showed us that his shoes were falling apart. His soles were flapping and it was wet out. To read more…
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Report
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.