Volume 80, Number 26 | November 25 - December 1, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Hope for SPURA

After decades of inertia at the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, on the Lower East Side south of the Williamsburg Bridge, the makings of a viable development scheme are taking shape. Where six blocks have lain vacant, occupied by open-air parking lots, there are now visions of housing and commercial development, and much-needed jobs and economic development.

It must be stressed that what exists now are only guidelines, not a plan, per se. But Community Board 3 — which has been spearheading this process for the past several years — is indeed now working toward a final plan.

The guidelines were presented Nov. 16 at C.B. 3’s Land Use, Zoning, Public and Private Housing Committee. Basically, they call for a mixed-use project, with equal parts residential and commercial development. There would be 800 to 1,000 units of housing. Under one possible scenario, the mix could include 40 percent market-rate, 30 percent moderate and middle-income, 20 percent low-income and 10 percent senior housing.

No retail spaces would be larger than 30,000 square feet, effectively excluding big-box stores, though a supermarket of larger size would be allowed. A movie theater and parking space would also be included.

In addition, although they weren’t in the original 1965 renewal plan, C.B. 3 is also including in its redevelopment concept the four Essex St. Market buildings, between Stanton and Houston Sts.

Leading the C.B. 3 committee on the renewal area is David McWater. McWater, when he was board chairperson, initiated the community-led, contextual East Village / Lower East Side rezoning approved by the city two years ago, which put height caps on new development. He’s confident the SPURA plan will also win approval.

Next month, the SPURA guidelines will be fleshed out at C.B. 3, and it’s hoped the board will vote on the concept in January. But there’s still far to go. The city will need to do an environmental impact statement (E.I.S.), then a uniform land-use review procedure (ULURP), then issue requests for proposals (R.F.P.’s) to get developers for the 10 various sites. All this could take three years, and, of course, construction would be phased in over many years. McWater stressed it’s important to get the approval process completed before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office — since who knows what could happen under a new administration? Whatever consensus has been painstakingly built over the past two years could evaporate.

The renewal plan itself has expired. But McWater said, the city will give priority to former renewal-area residents who seek to return and get affordable housing, if their income meets requirements.

In 2003, the city pitched a SPURA proposal with a mix of housing, including 400 low- and middle-income units. That plan was scrapped due to vehement community opposition. In contrast, this current process has been community driven.

The key will be getting the area’s local elected officials onboard, namely Councilmember Margaret Chin and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. While many residents of the Grand St. co-ops, where Silver lives, have historically resisted SPURA’s development, opposing more affordable housing, the co-ops’ residential mix has been changing, getting younger, more diverse. There’s new sentiment for movement on these eyesore blocks.

Now that a new, consensus plan is materializing, it’s incumbent on Chin and Silver to engage and support the process. If not, a golden opportunity will be lost; who knows what sort of plan for SPURA will be proposed in some future round, if any? It’s time for Chin and Silver to help shepherd this long-paralyzed project through to fruition. That would be a legacy to be proud of.



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