Appeals Court Considers Whether to Let Stand Decision About Two Bridges
A recent hearing before the Appellate Division court of New York’s First Judicial Department indicates that the controversial plan to erect four massive new towers in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Lower Manhattan’s East River waterfront may yet come to fruition.
In February, the scheme appeared to be dead when State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron ruled in favor of opponents, by ordering the City Planning Commission (CPC) to start anew the process of okaying the proposed buildings, in a ruling that decided a suit brought by a coalition of elected officials and Lower East Side community organizations. The group, which included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Margaret Chin, along with organizations such as the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors, the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, and the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, argued 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.”
The coalition of three developers who hope to build the towers (which structures reaching as high as 1,000 feet, and housing more than 2,700 apartments) appealed Judge Engoron’s decision, however, and were granted a hearing on June 23, at which two justices pursued a line of questioning that evinces deep skepticism about the February ruling.
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 the full legal scrutiny of the City’s “uniform land use review procedure” (ULURP) in authorizing new projects. By statute, it must—but attorneys for the developers argued that the amount of time that has passed since makes the question irrelevant, thus rendering ULURP unnecessary.
This distinction is crucial, because absent the legal requirement for ULURP, the City has already approved the proposal under a less-rigorous standard of review, limited to an environmental impact statement.
The validity of this standard and the City’s decision to green light the four new towers hinges upon a determination, made by the CPC 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. If this claim by the CPC (which is controlled by Mayor de Blasio) is allowed to stand, it would preempt the legal authority of the City Council to review, and possibly veto, these projects. Within days of the CPC’s determination, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Margaret Chin filed a lawsuit against the de Blasio administration.
In that action, the Borough President and the Council member argued 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.”
Judge Engoron’s original decision hinged, in part, 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 focused also on 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.”
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 Appellate Division is expected to issue its ruling, upholding or overturning Judge Engoron’s decision, later this year.
In a separate but related development, another new skyscraper in Two Bridges is showing signs of distress. The One Manhattan Square condominium building is now offering prospective buyers discounts of up to 20 percent from the original asking prices for apartments. This comes on the heels of a similar enticement unveiled last year, under which the developers offered to waive common charges on units within the building for up to a decade. This inducement could translate into a savings of more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Rent stabilization at Gateway Plaza expires today (Tuesday, June 30). Despite more than two years of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) and the LeFrak Organization (which operates the complex), no agreement has been announced that will extend affordability protections at Battery Park City’s largest residential complex.
Negotiations are ongoing, and may yield such an agreement soon. In a recent statement, the BPCA said that, “the Authority and the owners of the Gateway residential complex remain committed to the extension of a limitation on rent increases for the pre-June 30th, 2009 tenants who reside in the complex. The proposed agreements may not be signed until after the current June 30th, 2020 expiration, but please be assured that the shared understanding is that they be retroactive back to that date and both parties are working diligently.”
Advocacy Group and Council Member and Score Win for Street Vendors
A non-profit based in Lower Manhattan has successfully lobbied for street vendors to be removed from the jurisdiction of the NYPD, as a means of furthering social justice. The Street Vendor Project (part of the Urban Justice Center, based at 40 Rector Street) has pushed for years to take enforcement of regulations governing street vendors away from the police.
CB1’s Outgoing Chair Reflects on Decades of Service as He Passes the Torch
Anthony Notaro, a Lower Manhattan community leader for decades and chair of Community Board 1 (CB1) since 2016, concluded his tenure on June 23, when Tammy Meltzer was elected to succeed him.
If the aphorism about leadership that holds, “decisions are made by those who show up” is true, then Lower Manhattan had benefitted from the guidance of a born decision-maker, because Mr. Notaro is somebody who has always been defined by his habit of stepping forward, speaking up, and getting involved. A resident of Battery Park City since the late 1990s, Mr. Notaro joined CB1 shortly after moving to Lower Manhattan. To read more…
The Election Is Over, But the Counting Continues
The preliminary results in the contested race to represent the 65th Assembly District (which stretches from the Battery to Vesey Street on the West Side and traces a jagged line between Broadway and the East River, topping out just above Houston Street, on the East Side) in Albany favor incumbent Yuh-Line Niou over challenger Grace Lee.
Of all the ballots 7,214 ballots cast in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, according to the City’s Board of Elections, Ms. Niou garnered 4,440 (or slightly more than 61 percent of the total), while Ms. Lee took 2,741 (or 38 percent).
City Plans Black Lives Matter Street Mural for Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan will soon have new piece of street art: the Administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has commissioned a Black Lives Matter mural for Centre Street, between Worth and Reade Streets. The painting will consist of large letters emblazoned on the roadbed, and is among five such installations, with one planned for each borough.
This project was inspired by the impromptu creation of a similar mural on Fulton Street, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn a week ago. When word spread of this project, Mr. Blasio showed up at the site and helped paint it. A few days later, he announced that this section of Fulton Street was to be closed to vehicular traffic for the remainder of the summer.
Pandemic and Economic Downturn Impact Local Leasing
A new report from brokerage Douglas Elliman and appraiser Miller Samuel indicates that rents are trending downward in Lower Manhattan, while the inventory of vacant apartments is ballooning. These tidal shifts appear to be attributable to the health crisis associated with the pandemic coronavirus, and the economic slowdown it has triggered. The monthly Elliman Report for May documents that new lease signings have fallen at an unprecedented rate, while vacancies have surged to a new record.
For all of Lower Manhattan, the report finds that the median rent is now $3,895, which represents a 7.3 percent drop from one month earlier when the median rent was $4,200, but a slight increase of one-half of one percent from last May, when the median figure was $3,875.
Part of the #BFPLatHome series. Prizes: 1st Place: $150 gift card to a BFPL restaurant of the winner’s choice; 2nd Place: $20 BFPL Gift Card; 3rd Place: Two bags of For Five Coffee – winner’s choice! (must live in NYC, NJ, or CT).
Each day, a different encore presentation from the company’s Live in HD series is available for free streaming on the Met website, with each performance available for 23 hours, from 7:30 p.m. EDT until 6:30 p.m. the following day. The schedule will include outstanding complete performances from the past 14 years of cinema transmissions, starring all of opera’s greatest singers.
Tribeca Community On Display
All of Us Thank All of You
Fine artist and long time Downtown resident Adele H. Rahte has spent the stay-at-home period designing and creating these fabric collages representing the people in our community as a special form of thank you to the essential workers of our community and city for keeping us safe.
On display during the month of July at the Tribeca Community Window Gallery located at 160 West Broadway.
‘A Fraudulent Scheme to Evade the Rent Stabilization Laws’
FiDi Renters Seek Recompense for Years of Rent Overcharges; U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Overturn Tenants’ Victory
More Financial District tenants are going to court to demand restitution from years of illegally high rent, on the heels of a 2019 ruling by New York State’s highest court, which found that as many as 5,000 Lower Manhattan apartments had been illegally deprived of rent stabilization benefits.
The most recent suit was filed on behalf of tenants at 90 Washington Street, a 397-unit rental building located between Rector and Joseph P. Ward Streets. This filing follows similar legal actions on behalf of tenants at 63-67 Wall Street, Ten Hanover Square, 50 Murray Street, 90 West Street, and 53 Park Place.
1967 – Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” goes #1 for 15 weeks
1517 – First burning of Protestants at stake in Netherlands
1535 – Sir Thomas More goes on trial in England charged with treason
1656 – First Quakers, Mary Fisher and Ann Austin arrive in Boston and subsequently imprisoned.
1798 – Napoleon’s fleet reaches Alexandria Egypt
1836 – President Andrew Jackson announces to Congress bequest by James Smithson of 100,000 gold sovereigns to found institution in Washington.
1858 – The joint reading of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace’s papers on evolution to the Linnean Society.
1862 – Internal Revenue Law imposes first federal taxes on inheritance, tobacco & on incomes over $600
1863 – Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Lee’s northward advance halted
1873 – Henry Ossian Flipper of Georgia one of the first African Americans enters West Point Military Academy
1879 – Charles Taze Russell publishes the first edition of the religious magazine The Watchtower.
1929 – Cartoonist Elzie Segar creates “Popeye”
1934 – First x-ray photo of entire body, Rochester, NY
1948 – NYC subway fare goes to 10 cents, bus fare to 7 cents and combo fare at 12 cents
1960 – Fidel Castro nationalizes Esso, Shell and Texaco in Cuba
1967 – Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” goes #1 for 15 weeks
2013 – Demonstrations occur across Egypt with 15 million people calling for the resignation of their President, Mohammed Morsi
1869 – William Strunk Jr., American grammarian (d. 1946)
1872 – Louis Bleriot, first man to fly an airplane across English Channel
1902 – Billy Wyler, director (Ben Hur, Mrs Miniver)
1906 – Estée Lauder, New York, NY, CEO (Estée Lauder cosmetics) (d. 2004)
1784 – Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, composer, son of J.S. Bach, dies at 73
1860 – Charles Goodyear, American inventor, dies at 59
1896 – Harriet Beecher Stowe, US author (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), dies at 85
1958 – Harry Nicholls Holmes, (crystallized vitamin A), dies at 78
1995 – Wolfman Jack, disc jockey (Midnight Special), dies at 57
1983 – R Buckminster Fuller, inventor/philosopher, dies in LA at 87
2004 – Marlon Brando, actor (“The Godfather”, “A Street Cart Named Desire” and “On the Water Front”) dies at 80
Previously Published Downtown News
CB1 Endorses Push to Expand VCF Coverage to Pandemic Illness
Community Board 1 (CB1) has signed on to a campaign that aims to expand the eligibility criteria of the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) to include illnesses related to the outbreak of the pandemic coronavirus.