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Volume 77, Number 25 | November 21 - 27 2007

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C.B. 3 renews discussions on Seward Park renewal

By Joe Pompeo 

Affordable housing was among the priorities community members placed on a wish list for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area at a Nov. 13 Community Board 3 task force meeting.

Opinions varied, however, on how much affordable housing should be included in the renewal area’s long-anticipated redevelopment plans. Suggestions ranged from 60 percent affordable units and 40 percent market-rate units, to a breakdown that would include no market-rate units, and under which low-income, moderate-income and middle-income residents would each occupy 33 percent of the units.

Harvey Epstein, a task force member, said the goal is to “minimize the sales price and maximize the affordability.”  

The majority of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area — which is the largest parcel of vacant, city-owned land below 96th St. in Manhattan — has remained undeveloped since 1967 when the city razed blocks of tenements and displaced some 2,000 people as part of a federal program to create new low-income housing.

The city last unveiled a plan for the roughly 5-acre parcel south of Delancey St. near the Williamsburg Bridge in 2003. But hundreds of community members sparred over the proposal during a public meeting held that November, with some arguing the plan did not go far enough in addressing the needs of poor New Yorkers and others pushing for more market-rate housing and commercial development. Seeing such disagreement, the city pulled the plan, which would have reserved 400 units for low- and middle-income residents. 

Now, as momentum picks up among locals who want to see something done with the land, the question that remains is whether or not an agreement on what the renewal area should contain can be reached. 

“I think affordable housing has got to be in there, but what we’re really hoping to do is come up with an idea that everybody likes,” said David McWater, chairperson of both C.B. 3 and the board’s 197 Plan Task Force, speaking after the meeting. The task force deals with comprehensive, community-based planning in the district.

Other ideas brought up during the brainstorming session for the renewal area included: eco-friendly building principles; a height cap on buildings; commercial development that “supports our community needs”; space for a community facility, as well as cultural and recreational sites; and community-based job development.

McWater said he would create an information packet summarizing the suggestions to be distributed for further discussion at next month’s task force meeting. He could not estimate when C.B. 3, which is solely an advisory body, would be ready to communicate its ideas for the renewal area. But he did say that “there is a tremendous amount of will to do this” at the city level.

Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the renewal area, also could not specify a timeline. However, she said of E.D.C., “We believe in the development of the sites” and that the agency is “very interested in and willing to listen to what the community has to say.”

Some members of the Seward Park Area Renewal Coalition, or SPARC, a group that is advocating for affordable housing on the vacant properties, attended the task force meeting. One member, Lucille Carrasquero, said she thought it was a step in the right direction, and that the coalition would press elected officials to take a position.  

“We need more affordable housing in New York,” she said.


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