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Lower Manhattan is growing in ways that only a decade ago seemed not just improbable, but impossible. Who would have thought that our neighborhood, in the wake of 9/11, would rebound and rebuild so strongly that it would end up serving as a beacon, as a model for rebirth and as an example of a community dedicated to healing, to exhibiting hope and resilience in the face of adversity?
Lower Manhattan needs many things right now to support and balance this rapid growth, including more school seats and affordable housing.
These pressing needs provide a context for our endorsement of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s pledge to fight Mayor Bloomberg’s plan, verbalized in the mayor’s State of the City address given last week, to sell off three publicly owned Lower Manhattan buildings in a one-shot deal all in the name of closing a budget gap that exists in the upcoming fiscal year. The buildings in question are 49-51 Chambers, 22 Reade and 346 Broadway.
If we have one message for Mayor Bloomberg, it’s “hold your horses.”
By no means are we against the city shedding certain assets in the name of streamlining government and saving taxpayers’ dollars. But the city needs to ensure essential services are provided to its residents that make this city so great.
In 2009 in Lower Manhattan, 970 children were born. In 2011, that number rose to 1,086. There is a desperate need that everyone recognizes Downtown’s necessity for new school seats, and great difficulty, as we have seen, in finding them. Selling three publicly owned buildings without first investigating whether they can be used to address the school seat shortage is irresponsible and shortsighted. And the same investigation is needed to see if these buildings can be developed residentially as part of an affordable housing program or incentive.
However, if the city wants to put these buildings on the auction block, there is still the question of public review and input, and the need for the city to follow its uniform land-use review procedure, or ULURP. All buildings disposed of by the city must go through the ULURP process; key participants in ULURP are the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission, local community boards, borough presidents, the City Council and the mayor.
Only one of the three buildings included in the mayor’s proposal has been subjected to the ULURP process: 346 Broadway. The mayor made no mention of putting the other two buildings on Reade and Chambers Sts. through ULURP in his speech last week, which has led many to believe that neither property will be converted for residential use — specifically affordable housing — an essential need in the eyes of a majority of Community Board 1 members and Lower Manhattan residents.
The mayor’s one-shot proposal has given rise to fears that there is a sweetheart private developer deal in the making, one that may result in yet more hotel development in an already dense tourist destination.
We hope the mayor uses this opportunity to correct that perception.
We strongly support the borough president’s call for transparency in the overall process and for the allowance of public input. What is clearly necessary is a full public review, where residents, stakeholders and local elected officials can voice their opinions on what’s best for these three properties.