Friday, October 12, 2012

Council Approves Giant Lower East Side Project

Almost five decades in the marking, plans for the massive Seward Park mixed-use development has finally won City Council approval. The giant 1.8 million-square-foot project south of Delancey Street now moves to the mayor's office for final sign off. The Seward Park project will be largest redevelopment of underutilized city-owned land south of 96th Street in Manhattan in more than forty years. A formal request for proposal to find a developer could happen as soon as early next year.

Plans for the massive Seward Park mixed-use development finally won City Council approval Thursday afternoon. The redevelopment of the seven-acre Lower East Side site has been more than 50 years in the making.

[ElectricWeb | Blogger, June 6, 2012]

The City Council voted unanimously in favor of the modified version of the plan that was approved by two City Council subcommittees last week.

The revised strategy involves transforming city-owned parking lots south of Delancey Street, near the Williamsburg Bridge, into a mixed-use development boasting nearly 2 million square feet. The site has become known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.

The Seward Park project, the largest redevelopment of underutilized city owned land south of 96th Street in Manhattan in years, will now move to the mayor's office for final sign off, which is expected later this month.

"Today's vote to approve development on the Seward Park site is truly history in the making. This is a significant step toward alleviating the chronic problem of overcrowding in our community," said City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the area, worked with the community and negotiated with the city on some tweaks to the project. "This is not only a momentous vote, but an example of what we can accomplish when the city and our partners in the community work together."

The redevelopment of the lots, formerly home to tenements that were demolished by the city in the late 1960s, has been controversial for years. Prior to this latest project, there were several proposals for the site. All of them failed because the city and community could not agree on the details of the redevelopment. Affordable housing was a big roadblock for the project, one earlier proposal called for all low-income housing. Many in the community wanted the project to be 100% affordable, but they eventually conceded it would not be financially feasible without enough market-rate apartments.

The entire 1.78 million-square-foot, mixed-use development would be 40% commercial and 60% residential. Originally, the plan called for half of the 900 proposed residential units to be affordable. Under the revised plan, there will be 1,000 units, 500 of them affordable.

Most eventually accepted that market-rate apartments were necessary to make the project financially feasible. Additionally, as part of the plan the city has promised to build another affordable housing complex offsite at an underutilized site at 21 Spring St. to meet the needs of the community.

Affordable housing had been a major issue for the project in the past and many in the community had wanted 100% of the residential units planned for the site to be affordable. Most eventually accepted that market-rate apartments were necessary to make the project financially feasible.

While concerns over affordable housing have dwindled, new issues have emerged. Community Board 3, which was instrumental in getting the latest plan through the city public review process, wants to remain actively involved in the redevelopment. Some in the community would like to see a school included in the project. Others want to make sure that a big-box retailer does not occupy the space.

Adjustments to the original plan include the city reserving 15,000 square feet of space at the site until 2023 for a potential public school in case it is determined there is a need for it. Also, the city will establish a community task force that will be involved in shaping the project and will play an instrumental role in drafting the formal request for proposals seeking a developer to build on the site as well as the selecting the winner of the request for proposals.

Other assurances to the community include if a new Essex Street Market is built, it will remain a public market and vendors at the existing building will have first dibs at comparable space at the new facility and hiring preferences for jobs created from the project for local residents.

"We are hopeful about the move and expansion of the Essex Street Public Market and the accommodation of existing merchants with moving costs and comparable rents and spaces," said Ms. Chin.