Community Groups Revive Lawsuit Against Towers Using New State Constitutional Provision
The four new residential towers proposed for the Two Bridges neighborhood would contain more than 2,700 apartments. The tower at left is already largely complete, while the four to the right are nearing the start of construction.The towers are described by City Hall as “minor modifications” to nearby (and much smaller) existing structures.
A years-long saga of legal battles aiming to thwart the planned development of a cluster of super-tall residential towers proposed for the Two Bridges neighborhood of East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan has taken a new twist, with a lawsuit that relies upon a provision of the New York State Constitution that was approved by voters last November, and formally enacted in January of this year.
That amendment adds 15 words to Article I, Section 19, of the New York Bill of Rights: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” This makes New York third among the 50 states (after Pennsylvania and Montana) to enshrine an explicit right to a clean environment in its constitution. Because it is less than a year old, this provision has not yet been considered or applied by New York courts. Both critics and supporters of the new clause note that its broad wording gives judges nearly unlimited discretion in how to interpret the meaning of the text.
At issue in this case is the City’s approval of the controversial projects, which include a total of four new towers, reaching as high as 1,000 feet. Opponents of the plan now argue that years of construction will degrade the air quality of their community, while the new erected spires will cast much of the streetscape in deep shadows in the decades to come. The Two Bridges projects are slated to bring more than 2,700 new apartments (700 set aside as affordable units) to the community.
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.
“These 60- to 80-story proposed towers, approved by former Mayor Bill de Blasio, will violate current neighborhood residents’ rights to clean air and water protected by the New York State Constitution,” says Zishun Ning, a member of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, who adds, “their construction will negatively impact the health and safety of the residents, many of whom are people of color having suffered from respiratory issues caused by [the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001]. By bringing in thousands of market-rate units, the mega-towers will increase real estate taxes and rents in the surrounding communities, furthering the displacement of tenants and small businesses who are already struggling due to the pandemic.”
Opponents of the Two Bridges project rallied in Zuccotti Park on September 27 to petition the City Planning Commission to revise course on the projects.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Friday, follows years of litigation focused on the approval granted by the City Planning Commission (CPC) to a streamlined review that allowed all three 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, 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 households in the area) qualified as a “minor modification” to existing zoning for the neighborhood. This position by the CPC (which was controlled by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio) preempted the legal authority of the City Council to review, and possibly veto, these projects.
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Constructed over a millennium from the fourth to fourteenth centuries CE near Dunhuang, an ancient border town along the Silk Road in northwest China, the Mogao Caves comprise the largest, most continuously created, and best-preserved treasure trove of Buddhist art in the world. Learn more at this presentation.
Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes, BWV 40; Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget, BWV 64; Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80; Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim?, BWV 89. The Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Trinity Baroque Orchestra; Avi Stein, conductor. Free.