Volume 76, Number 8 | July 12 - 18, 2006


Planning Seward Park sites: Let’s do it right this time

It was encouraging to see on Monday night that Community Board 3 is game to tackle one of the most thorny and seemingly intractable issues in all of Lower Manhattan: the redevelopment of the remaining Seward Park Urban Renewal Zone sites.

In January 2004, a plan to redevelop this vast swath of city-owned property imploded after the community couldn’t agree on what types of uses should go on the site. The main disagreement — as has been the case for decades — was over whether any low-income housing should be built on the sites.

There’s a strong constituency for low-income housing. There is an equally strong constituency against it, with the latter group preferring only commercial development, as well as market-rate housing and possibly even some moderate-rate housing.

This time around, David McWater, C.B. 3 chairperson, seems determined to make sure that something gets done and that there isn’t another meltdown amid angry shouts and accusations like the last time. The board is previously on record having outlined some guidelines for what it wants on the Seward Park sites. But McWater seems to indicate that while these guidelines will be reviewed, it’s now essentially a clean slate: The process will start afresh; all important stakeholders will be assembled and sounded out for their views; and, hopefully, this time a consensus will be reached — and those dusty parking lots will finally be put to much better use.

While there are arguments for both sides of the debate, much has already changed in just the two years since the last proposal for the renewal area collapsed. Gentrification of the East Village and Lower East Side is spiraling ever faster. Unusual, and strikingly out of context, upscale projects like Blue on Norfolk St., are now cropping up. In the current climate of a steady reduction of housing, the affordable-housing advocates’ arguments have strengthened. Yes, an expected rezoning of the East Village and Lower East Side will contain provisions for inclusionary zoning for affordable housing. Yet, this probably won’t offset the massive loss of units as the area continues to become more expensive.

We are very interested in Councilmember Alan Gerson’s idea for an arts and cultural anchor, but, of course, such an anchor must first be identified.

The city seems eager to redevelop this area. The main thing now, above all, is to follow McWater’s lead and make sure that this conversation happens on a civilized, nonemotional plane. But neighbors must be united behind any plan before it is approved. Any feeling that a new proposal is being shoved down people’s throats without their input will merely fail miserably once again.

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