^ I didn't think that. But it is ridiculous .
LES eyes paradise rising on parking lot
After 40-year battle, plan for mixed-use development looks like a winner.
By Amanda Fung
Lower East Side residents and city officials have spent more than four decades sparring over what should go on five fallow city-owned lots, totaling seven acres, just south of Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge. But courtesy of a 2008 rezoning, a few determined community leaders and many compromises, it looks as though the area will finally be transformed into a huge complex with housing, as well as retail and office space. It would be the largest redevelopment project on underutilized city-owned land south of 96th Street.
The proposal for what is known as the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Project is likely to pass its first hurdle May 22, when Community Board 3 is expected to give the plan its overwhelming approval.
"There is no doubt that it will become a reality," said David McWater, co-chair of Community Board 3's committee on land use, zoning and housing, and a local business owner. "In the past, there was a lot of fear and bad sentiment over the empty lots. Now it is time to start a new era."
If all goes well, the five surface parking lots will be turned into a 1.65 million-square-foot mixed-use development comprised of 40% commercial and 60% residential units, with roughly 900 apartments, half of which will be affordable. It is expected to be approved by the necessary city officials and the City Council by this fall. The city would then likely seek a developer early next year. Only then can the site begin to catch up with the area north of Delancey Street, which in recent years has blossomed with the arrival of trendy shops and restaurants, hip bars and even a luxury condo tower called Blue.
Hopes are now rising 47 years after the city demolished the tenements that once stood on the lots in what had become the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. The plan then was to build low-income housing, but those proposals and five others never went anywhere, as city officials and residents failed to agree on the details.
Not this time.
"It has been a collaborative team effort," said Gabriella Amabile, director of large-scale planning at the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development. She points out that even the project's design—which blends the look of the tenement buildings to the south of Delancey Street with the taller co-op towers south of Grand—reflects that new approach. "It's very grass-roots instead of top-down," she said.
In the past, housing has been a key stumbling block, with many residents fighting long and hard for 100% affordable units. This time around, the community has accepted that some market-rate apartments are needed to make the project financially feasible.
With that taken care of, however, other differences have emerged. Some residents would like to see a school added. Others would like to make sure that the retail space will not go to a big-box store and that Community Board 3, which has been crucial to jump-starting the project, remains actively involved down the road.
More customers needed
"It won't be smooth sailing," said Dominic Pisciotta Berg, Community Board 3 chair. "But we are off to a great start."
In fact, some Lower East Side businesses are already looking forward to future office tenants coming to the area. Local retailers say they could use more customers during the day, when most of the residents are off at work, according to Bob Zuckerman, executive director for the Lower East Side Business Improvement District.
"There are a lot of retailers that can't make it here because of the lack of daytime foot traffic," said David Zarin, the head of Zarin Fabrics, a third-generation family business on Grand Street founded in 1936.