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Thread: Lower East Side Development

  1. #151

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    ^
    Why do I think this has a low probability of actually happening?

  2. #152
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    ^ 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."

    Approval likely

    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.

    http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article...#ixzz1uvjpDORA

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    Transforming 200 Vacant Storefronts With Grassroots Design

    by Jessica Dailey



    Architect and Lower East Side resident Eric Cho has high hopes for the more than 200 vacant storefronts in his neighborhood, the East Village, and Alphabet City. Through collaborative grassroots design, Cho, co-founder of Architecture Commons, wants to turn these underused spaces into resources that would benefit (but not gentrify) the immediate neighborhood. To do so, he has teamed up with several local groups and designers and launched an initiative called miLES (Made in the Lower East Side). The cleverly named project has chosen two experimental blocks—East 4th Street and Orchard Street—to test their 12-month design and research process. As Bowery Boogie points out, the project sounds similar to what nonprofit No Longer Empty does, but miLES's goals seem to be more permanent and community-driven revitalization.

    Grassroots "miLES" Takes on Vacant Lower East Side Storefronts [Bowery Boogie]
    miLES - Reinvent Your Hood [Scribd]

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2012/0...ots_design.php

  4. #154
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    Stringer Supports SPURA Plan if Permanent Affordable Housing is Protected

    By Serena Solomon


    (Blue Condo under construction, centre)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seward_...n_Renewal_Area





    LOWER EAST SIDE — Borough President Scott Stringer announced Thursday his conditional support for the massive and controversial plan to develop several underused blocks along Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge — saying he wants the current plan to set aside half of the units as permanent affordable housing added to the application materials.

    The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) — a 1.65-million-square-foot swath of lots that has remained undeveloped for more than 45 years — has been hotly debated by the community and the city in recent years.

    The Lower East Side's Community Board 3 recently approved a plan for SPURA that includes retail stores, offices and community facilities, as well as guaranteeing 450 units of permanently affordable housing — half of the 900 total proposed units.

    "To date, however, this commitment has not been codified in the application materials. Given that permanency protects diverse housing for future generations ... the application materials should be updated to reflect this commitment," Stringer wrote in his July 5 recommendation.

    Stringer also backs the plan to include a school on the property and to head off the chance of a big-box store on the property by reining in stores larger than 30,000 square feet.
    He also asked for assurances that the city continue to work with community groups on the project.

    Stringer also supported the inclusion of a public school or space that could later become one, as well as a guarantee that locals in the area are given sufficient notice about the affordable units.

    Small businesses within the Essex Street Market on Essex and Delancey streets, which will eventually be displaced if the development goes ahead, require special assistance if they are relocated, according to Stringer.

    He also requested that preference be given to any future developer that planned to restrict large retailers to less than 30,000 square feet in space within the development.

    The plan, having already received support from CB3, is currently going through the city's land-use approval process (ULURP) and will be the subject of a public hearing on July 11 at the City Planning Commission.

    The city-owned blocks, which mostly house parking lots as well as the Essex Street Market, have been in limbo since the city tore down tenements there in the 1960s to make way for planned development that never occurred.

    Last month, CB3's land use committee voted to approve the plan developed by the city's Economic Development Corp., despite some committee members' requests being denied. The decision dismayed some members who wanted the EDC to block big-box stores and ensure a school would be included in the plan.

    http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/2012...#ixzz1zunwUthY

  5. #155

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    Sheesh! I'm surprised Stringer would oppose ANY construction -- that area is a wasteland and after 50 years beggars shouldn't be choosers here.

    Most galling is that his demands don't come for cheap for everyone else in the city -- what is "affordable" to someone means more city-subsidized construction for the rest of us, and a less-broad tax base in addition, plus a huge opportunity cost in lost revenue for a city that needs to shore up its finances. Maybe if Stringer were less concerned about "affordable" housing that for most of us is not only unaffordable but, even worse, physically, legally off-limits and more concerned about the city's fiscal health we could get the area developed sooner, with higher-quality architecture/development, and there would even be a net positive (rather than negative) for the city that could be used to, I don't know, pay for the infrastructure upgrades that are either underway or desperately needed.


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    LES BID Now in Full Manifest Destiny Mode

    by Dave Hogarty



    The Lower East Side Business Improvement District (BID) was established 20 years ago to revitalize the Orchard Street Shopping District; and over two decades it has remained mostly centered along an Orchard Street axis, with some expansion eastward down Delancey. The economic development group is ready to grow, however, and spread its boundaries south to East Broadway, east as far as Pitt Street, and west across Chrystie to Bowery. LES BID officials presented their plans to the public at DL on Ludlow Street this week, according to Bowery Boogie, kicking off a long public review process to realize their territorial ambitions.

    The Lo-Down reports that the average annual fees assessed to property owners in the expanded BID would be $756 based on property valuations, and that the first-year annual budget for the larger footprint would be $990,000. One interesting question raised during the meeting: what will happen to the SPURA parking lots the LES BID currently controls, from which it derives significant revenue and free parking? If and when SPURA is developed, the LES BID may need an alternate source of revenue to replace the approximately half-million dollars it receives from those lots currently.

    Lower East Side BID Presents Expansion Plans to Community [BB]
    Lower East Side BID Outlines Plans for Expansion [Lo-Down]
    Expansion [LES BID]



    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2012/0..._mode.php#more

  7. #157
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    The selling off of NYC public space continues. But business knows best, right? So why shouldn't the city sign never-ending contracts with real estate developers and let them make the decisions for the neighborhood?

  8. #158
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    Lowline Generates Excitement, Despite Lingering Concerns About Cost

    Posted: 07/24/2012

    by Johanna Barr



    There’s an old, abandoned trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street that’s closed to the public. It was built in 1903 to house Williamsburg Bridge trolleys and has sat unused since 1948. It’s dark and dank, with debris littering the ground and graffiti covering the walls. Notably absent from the space is light.

    Dan Barasch and James Ramsey hope to change that. They’ve proposed a plan to turn the space into the Delancey Underground, the city’s first subterranean park.

    “The proposal is particularly attractive because the space isn’t anything right now -- it’s a 60,000-square-foot hotel for rats,” said David McWater, who chairs Community Board 3’s Land Use committee, which supports the proposal. “It’s just totally wasted space, and here are these guys with this extraordinary, creative idea about what to do there.”

    Nicknamed the Lowline, the plan would use existing fiber optic technology to light and power the space. An aboveground collector dish would reflect and gather light, then direct it via fiber optic cable underground, where a distributor dish would spread it throughout the space. The system would transmit the wavelengths necessary for photosynthesis, enabling trees, plants and grass to grow.

    It would be the first time the technology, which Ramsey refers to as “Remote Skylights,” would be used for such a purpose.

    “I had something of a eureka moment maybe three years ago, when I realized that you can treat light like a liquid and irrigate it into spaces that don’t have access to daylight normally,” said Ramsey, an architect and former NASA engineer.

    “Meanwhile, I worked with an old engineer who was formerly with the MTA,” Ramsey said. “He told me his war stories from the 1970s, when they discovered crazy lost spaces underneath the city. I realized you could employ some of these technologies to get light down into these spaces.”

    Ramsey and Barasch first presented their proposal to McWater’s committee and local officials in September, and they gained the backing of the full community board in late June. They've also earned the support of residents of the Lower East Side, impressed by the technology and hungry for more open space in their neighborhood.

    The terminal is owned by New York City Transit and was featured on a recent list of real estate holdings the Metropolitan Transit Authority hopes to sell. Ramsey and Barasch hope to reclaim it for their project, which they have modeled in some ways after the High Line, the popular park built on an elevated railroad track.

    The co-founders have raised $150,000 through Kickstarter and hosted several well-attended fundraisers, including a recent event at the Bowery Hotel. They hope to raise another $75,000 this summer, which an anonymous donor has pledged to match.

    The money raised so far will go to fund a September technology demonstration, which will be open to the public and held in the former Essex Street Market space. There, Ramsey and Barasch will exhibit a miniature version of the Lowline and work to drum up community interest.

    They said they don’t know how much money they’ll ultimately need to make the park a reality, or how long planning and construction will take.

    “People have very real questions about what it will cost, how long it will take to build and whether the technology works,” said Barasch, a former Google employee who has also worked in social innovation for the city. “We’re trying to answer those questions strategically this year, and we’re using the technology demo to unveil the answers."

    Representatives from some of the city’s parks organizations believe that while the Lowline is an inventive and intriguing idea, the money needed to build it should be spent on improvements to the city’s existing public parks, especially given budget cuts and soaring maintenance costs.

    Though Ramsey said he and Barasch plan to rely on fundraising and private donations, Holly Leicht, the executive director of independent advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks, pointed out that similar projects have turned to city money eventually. The High Line, for example, has had enormous success attracting private funding, but it has also relied heavily on public dollars.

    "At the end of the day, if you’re fundraising, there’s a finite pool that you’re drawing from -- at some point you’ll tap out your resources,” Leicht said. “It’s obviously an intriguing, fun idea, but our overall feeling is this is a very expensive undertaking. At a time when the city is funding a lot of very expensive new parks, we think, from a public perspective, the dollars are probably better directed elsewhere.”

    Geoffrey Croft, president of non-profit watchdog group NYC Park Advocates, said he thought the Lowline’s cost would be prohibitive. He questioned whether the project would have the same benefits as the High Line, given its far-flung location, decreased visibility and smaller size.

    “I think they may have a tougher time trying to raise the money needed to build something like this, because I don’t know if there will be as much of an immediate impact,” Croft said. “It’ll definitely be a unique space, but I think they’re going to have a tougher time convincing the powers that be that this will be a worthwhile investment.”

    The co-founders insist, however, that such comparisons miss the point.

    “It’s not Central Park. It’s not the High Line,” Barasch said. “It’s not going to be everything for all people.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/0...p_ref=new-york

  9. #159

    Default 29 July 2012

    21 East 1st Street


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    Compromise City: A Battle Over Affordable Housing on the Lower East Side

    After 45 years, the Seward Park Extension Urban Renewal Area is on the cusp of development. So why are some advocates crying foul?

    By E. Tammy Kim


    Yuko Torihara

    At 345 Grand Street on the Lower East Side, City Council Member Margaret Chin is a persona non grata. On the wall, pinned among protest flyers and intra-office reminders, hangs a black-and-white, crudely Photoshopped printout of Chin, bespectacled and smiling, in full royal regalia: crown, staff, fur-lined cape. “Her royal highness,” it reads.

    This is the office of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), a worker-oriented community group, and the headquarters of Chin’s vociferous foe, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The Coalition has accused Chin, a Democrat representing lower Manhattan, of selling out the neighborhood’s poor in the debate over the Seward Park Extension Urban Renewal Area (SPURA)—a constellation of vacant, publicly-owned lots on the cusp of development after 45 years of disuse.

    The Coalition met with Chin on June 21 to discuss its no-compromise position on the residential aspect of the SPURA project. “We demanded low-income housing of 100 percent, but Margaret Chin said, ‘I can’t do that because they’re gonna call me crazy,’” said Yolanda Donato, a member of NMASS and 35-year public housing resident on the Lower East Side.
    “What she’s doing is for the rich, not the poor,” said Amelia Avilas, who relies on a fixed income and has lived in the area since she emigrated from Puerto Rico 52 years ago. “[Chin] wants a division—the rich Chinese separated from Latinos and African Americans. She doesn’t want to unite the community.”

    On June 27, outside Chin’s office at 250 Broadway, the Coalition held a protest against the councilwoman’s “pro-developer stance.” Chin responded in a press release: “The Coalition has grossly misrepresented my position on the issue of affordable housing on the SPURA site… My commitment is to building housing options that meet the needs of low and moderate income individuals, seniors, and working families in the Lower East Side neighborhood.”

    As it turns out, the SPURA debate is more than a case of “she said, they said.” The fight between Chin and the Coalition hinges on the meaning of “affordable housing” and questions of compromise and entitlement to public land. At a deeper level, the dispute incites the acute politics of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where community board and City Council members overlap with grassroots activists; and where rapid gentrification has heightened endemic tensions of race and class.

    full article

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    High Time for the Lowline

    An underground green space in Manhattan's Lower East Side may see the light.

    Perrin Drumm


    A demonstration of the Lowline's skylight is prepared for display in a Manhattan warehouse. Lizzy Zevallos / Lowline

    Well aware that the areas of greatest density often have the least public space, James Ramsey, the principal of RAAD Studio, set out to tap into New York City’s infrastructure for an exciting alternative to the above ground park. Instead of looking skyward à la the High Line, Ramsey ventured down into what he calls “the historical bowels of the city.” On the site of a 1.5-acre abandoned trolley terminal that lies under Delancey Street on the Lower East Side, the Lowline is poised to be New York’s most radical park project yet.

    Here, remote skylights will not only transmit enough sunlight underground to see by, but enough to grow a wide variety of plants. “It was almost a philosophy on how you could get light down into places that wouldn’t normally get it,” said Ramsey. “When you start thinking about that you realize how much potential there would be for something that could bring natural daylight into dark spaces.”

    In March, Ramsey and the Lowline’s co-founder, Dan Barasch, launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $155,000 to fund the development of the remote skylights and construct a fully functional life-size installation to show to the community and prove to the MTA that not only is their idea popular, but it’s feasible as well. On September 13th, Ramsey, Barasch, and R. Boykin Curry IV, the project’s first major donor, will present a “mini” Lowline, a 30-foot-by-30 foot-by-20-foot canopy and green space installed inside the Essex Street Market. The event will include Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Arts Society, Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia University’s GSAPP, Loren Angelo, general manager of brand marketing at Audi of America, and John Alschuler, the chairman of the High Line, who will be announcing the results of the project’s financial and engineering studies.

    The prototype skylight ceiling is assembled (left) and lifted into place (right) for a demonstration exhibition.
    Lizzy Zevallos / Lowline
    Edward Jacobs, a former high-performance motorcycle designer at Confederate Motors, who Ramsey describes as “a visionary and pretty much the most talented guy I’ve ever met,” is overseeing the fabrication and installation of the canopy. In brief, Jacobs designed a system of 600 laser-cut hexagonal and triangular anodized aluminum panels that form a tessellated curve designed to reflect the light gathered by the remote skylights down into the underground space. Because the curved ceiling-scape is so specialized, no two panels are exactly alike. Each have slight differences in length or width that allow Jacobs to create a form that maximizes the reflectivity of the natural sunlight directed into the park—and he did it in less than two months.

    The public will have its chance to swoon at the installation in the two weeks following its unveiling. Then the hard work really begins. Apart from creating a convincing proposal for the MTA that outlines all aspects of the project and addresses their needs and concerns, Ramsey and Barasch must focus on fundraising, a task made somewhat less daunting by the project’s widespread support as well as claims that the Lowline will require only a fraction of what the High Line cost to construct. State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez are all already singing the Lowline’s praises, and even Turkey has expressed interest in a Lowline of their own.


    A rendering of the future Lowline running beneath Delancey Street. Courtesy RAAD Studio

    Unlike the High Line, the Lowline isn’t a long stretch of landscaped walkway, but a wide expanse the size of Gramercy Square Park. One of Ramsey’s goals is to encourage the sense of discovery and exploration he feels when he visits his favorite part of Central Park, the seemingly uncurated Ramble, which he calls “the beating heart of Central Park itself.”

    “You can walk through there and actually forage for strange, wild edibles,” he gushed. “You get a little bit lost. You don’t know what’s around the corner or over the next hill. I think that it’s one of the more successful landscape designs not only in the city, but in the world.”

    In tribute, Ramsey is designing a Ramble of his very own for the Lowline that will capitalize on the elements that drew him to subterranean Delancey Street in the first place. “We’ve got this found archeological space that no one knows about. There’s this component of mystery to it that New York still does have all these secrets you can explore that you can’t find on Yelp. Going down into [the Lowline] invokes that sense of discovery and mystery as well as this element of archeological adventure, like you’re exploring a ruin. I want to capture the idea that you can explore not just horizontally but vertically. It should be a jungle gym for adults where you can do a little Rambling,” said Ramsey, brimming with Olmstedian spirit. If everything goes according to plan, Ramsey estimates that the earliest possible date of completion is 2016. “That’s a really ambitious date, but this project is really ambitious, and look how far we’ve come in a year.”

    http://www.archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6260

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    The Wong Plan: Wok & Roll Founder Wants to Make SPURA 100 Percent Affordable, Build Giant Bus Depot

    By Kit Dillon

    The SPURA sites. Room for some affordable housing, or at least a giant bus depot? (NYC EDC)


    The city’s plan. (NYC EDC)

    For more than four decades, Lower East Siders have been fighting to redevelop the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, more commonly known by the (fittingly) ominous acronym SPURA. Just this year a breakthrough came, but another fight has ensued over the specifics of the plan. A grassroots citizen coalition wants the project devoted entirely to affordable housing, contrary to the city’s more market-driven mixed-income approach.

    Could their salvation come in the form of the founder of the ubiquitous Chinese fast food chain Wok & Roll, an institution more at home in the food courts and airports of middle America than the streets of downtown?

    Yesterday, inside 345 Grand Street, the now sometimes home of The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Ben Wong was looking down at his hands. The coalition has just put its hopes behind him, in a tri-lingual press conference and grassroots campaign, to steward and develop an idea they hope will save their neighborhood.

    It is a simple idea. Keep all the units of the city’s proposed SPURA redevelopment as fixed low-income housing. It is a demand that local City Councilwoman Margaret Chin has called “crazy,” and Harriet Cohen chair of the volunteer group Seward Park Area Redevelopment Coalition (SPARC) calls economically unfeasible. But Mr. Wong does not believe so and neither do the array of men and woman behind him holding signs in Cantonese, Spanish and English. They know they can make this work. Or so they insist.

    As a foil to the cities own faceless moneyed developers—who have yet to be selected, pending the ongoing rezoning of the area—Mr. Wong seems like the right pick. A Hong Kong immigrant educated in America, Mr. Wong has made a sizable amount of money as owner of the Wok & Roll food chain. He has also developed in the neighborhood, having built a Best Western and Comfort Inn hotels in Chinatown. They are, he says, “middle class, affordable, and also union.”

    His sudden presence in the coalition’s plan (yesterday was his first official meeting as project head) is a very pointed answer to the demand put forth by Margaret Chin’s commutations director, Kelly Magee, that, “You have to consider reality. You have to strategize. If you’re out there finding a developer who wants to [build 100% low-income, public housing], please let us know!”

    It would have seemed an impossible demand to fill just a few days ago. Building entirely low income housing is an almost impossible proposition, especially in New York where the sheer cost of construction and building maintenance has forced the mixed income model as an unavoidable economic compromise to even the most high-minded housing developments. The plan will cost after all, “millions and millions,” as Mr. Wong put it, and he himself admits that he has “just started the beginning” of development planning and doesn’t have the whole strategy yet. He is, “still learning how we could do this.”

    Currently, the city’s plan calls for transforming four parking lots on seven derelict acres south of Delancy Street into a 1.65 million-square-foot mixed use development. There will be a hotel, stores and some 900 units of affordable housing. Only 50 percent of the units would be set aside as affordable housing.

    So far, the Wong plan calls the building of a “Grand Central-like” bus station for the multitude of Chinatown bus companies, this encouraging local pedestrian traffic to the area. Students from Pratt Institute have already committed to the project, and the University of Hong Kong, where Mr. Wong’s brother-in-law is also a professor. Both will, we are assured, offer “free advice and a good design.” The financing of all this will come from Mr. Wong’s numerous financial contacts within HSBC, Chase Bank and the Shanghai Commercial Bank, he said.

    Otherwise, no specifics as to what the project might contain or look like were provided at this time.

    But it’s still, in The Coalition’s eyes, early days. The city has yet to release it’s Request For Proposal (RFP) for the site, which is slated to happen at the end of this year and it’s after that that they will respond with their fully laid out plan. In the meantime it’s enough for The coalition just to speak the idea’s name, a housing development that will really be, “for the people.” Well at least the people falling into the low income bracket of city housing, which means every household making under $40,000 a year, with a fixed rent rate of around $1000 a month.

    Even if the organizers cannot realize their goal of 100 percent affordable housing on the site, they are equally concerned about whether the 50 percent affordability the city has pledged is even “affordable” by common understanding. As it is planned now, SUPRA will divide the 50 percent of permanent affordable housing into four divisions of senior, low, moderate and middle-income housing. The low-income housing receives 20% of this division. The moderate- and middle income divisions both get 10 percent slices of the 900 apartments, which are reserved for families with income $100,000 a year and $130,000 a year, respectively. To the coalition’s mind, that is hardly affordable at all. Then again, try and find an apartment on the Lower East Side on that kind of salary these days. The remaining 10 percent is for seniors.

    As Howard Brandstein, executive director of the Sixth Street Community Center, points out, “all of private housing is market [rate] in this area. So anybody who says that the neighborhood needs mixed income housing on that site fails to acknowledge the reality that there’s no mixed income housing on any of the private land, which is the lion share of the housing and land in this community.”

    “You need to be practically rich to move into this neighborhood,” he added.

    http://observer.com/2012/09/the-wong...ant-bus-depot/

  13. #163

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    unless it's free, no Chinatown bus company will send its buses to the Lower East Side Chinatown Bus Depot.

  14. #164

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    When will they break ground on this "SPURA" project?

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    SPURA Spat Sweeps Council: After 40 Years, Disbelief Abounds

    By Kit Dillon


    SPURA’d to action. (NYC EDC)

    Yesterday, at a City Council hearing on the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, more commonly known as SPURA, the proper pronunciation of acronym—s-pure-rah? spur-ae? spewer?— wasn’t the only point in contention. The other question, the one the public, very many of them, had come out to answer was: Could New York finally take real steps, after nearly 40 years of waiting, to develop a long-neglected series of parking lots on the Lower East Side while still maintaining the famed spirit and character of that neighborhood. Or, as some would have it, would SPURA become just another in a long chain of missed opportunities.

    The hearing, chaired by council members Steve Levin of Brooklyn, chair of the zoning subcommittee, and Margaret Chin, the local rep, was a packed affair with the honorable Mr. Levin often reminding people to show their appreciation by, “doing the Occupy Wall Street thing,” as he wiggled his fingers in the air. “Jazz hands” is the technical term, we believe. It was a gesture that would be seldom actually seen during the next three and a half hours, with many of the speakers, both for and against the project, receiving their own rounds of loud supportive applause. The truth was this crowd came to be heard and many of them had been waiting for a very long time.

    People like, Tito Delgado, who told The Observer his own personal connection with the SPURA project and the urban renewal campaign that created these empty lots in the first place.

    “I was 15 when we were all evicted. We lived in a community that was poor, working class, and it was a mixture. It was real working class, the real lower east side. In my building, it was thirty units, we had 14 different ethnic groups and nationalities and that was reflective of the whole neighborhood. That was what was destroyed. It was more than housing. It destroyed a whole community of interaction of people and cultures. There was Irish kids that spoke spanish. We danced to black music. They danced to Salsa. It’s what the Lower East Side really was and I think that’s why so many people are attracted to it but that all seems to be going now.”

    Mr. Delgado now works with the Seward Park Area Redevelopment Coalition (SPARC—they love these acronyms), an organization that has been a vocal advocate of the current SPURA plan, working closely with the community board as it developed the specific planning guidelines now being discussed. Though even Mr. Delgado is not without his reservations, saying, “It’s not a perfect plan but it’s a good plan compared to the alternative. I mean, what’s the alternative? The alternative is leave those plots empty for another forty years.”

    The imperfections that Mr. Delgado is referencing are many — Will there be a hotel on the site? A box store? What will the relocation of the Essex Street Market entail? — but non is as pressing as the concern over the amount of affordable housing provided for in SPURA, just half of the 900 proposed units. It’s a contentious point and one most heavily vocalized by the members of The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side (CPC) who have moved to vote against the entire SPURA project if their isn’t a special allowance made to make all of SPURA’s units 100% low income housing. It’s a high demand, especially on land so obviously ripe for development. Council member Chin described the situation best in her opening remarks, “These parcels of land sat vacant. While just north of SPURA, a neighborhood — now famous for its nightlife and restaurant scene — was growing. Today, the value of this publicly-owned land is now high and developers, and the city, are anxious to develop it,” adding that, “the value of SPURA cannot be measured in dollars.” Not by some anyway.

    But the CPC is ready to play ball too. They’ve brought in their own developer, Mr. Ben Wong, owner of the Wok & Roll fast food chain and two hotels in the L.E.S., who pledges to build a complex of entirely low income housing on the SPURA site if the city will let him. It is a claim that Mr. Delgado just can’t believe.

    “A few days ago they put out a press release saying, ‘we have this developer who’s going to give us 100% low income.’ Well I’ve been involved in housing a long time. I’m not a developer but I know that that’s not possible. It’s not possible. And in my experience when has the private sector ever given working people anything except, you know, a foot on the neck. It’s only been through government that we’ve gotten anything, jobs, housing, schools, public parks. The private sector doesn’t give a damn about the average person. All they care about is the bottom line.”

    Not that it’s not a dream he doesn’t believe in. But nearly forty five years after being evicted from the very land under discussion, Mr. Delgado has reasons not to want to try and shoot the moon anymore, “If we were under a different society when the profit motive wasn’t everything. Then maybe we could get 100% low income. But that’s not the reality. 450 units is not going to solve the problem. But 450 units for poor people, working class people, is something. It’s something.”

    Affordable housing is a fight Margaret Chin has been having for a long time. In fact, just the notion that 50% of SPURA has been given over to affordable housing in perpetuity can be seen as a huge victory for the local community. Not that recent history isn’t without it’s reminders that, “in perpetuity” can be almost as variable as the word “affordable” in this city.

    Just north of the SPURA development site sits The Grand st. Co-Ops. A four building housing complex of nearly 4,000 apartments built over a period of thirty years from the 1930’s to the 1960’s by the labor movement for low and middle income residents. A designation that was, on paper at least, in perpetuity. That is until 1996 when a majority of share holders said, in one testifiers words, “to hell with that,” and threw it all out. The houses now range in the hundred of thousands of dollars, well out of reach of most middle income families. It’s a lesson not lost on some of the speakers at yesterdays meeting, “for the new people living in the SPURA there’s going to be a lot of pressure among themselves to speculate.”

    In as much as the economic forces of gentrification seem unavoidable, the social forces surrounding any neighborhood still remain a delicate balancing act. It’s a balancing act that SPURA does it’s best to maintain. As Jet Toomer, a native lower east sider and a strikingly assured young voice from the neighborhood housing and preservation organization GOLES, tells The Observer, “there’s always a tension when we see gentrification happen. We see the split happen between the people who move in and the people who stay, or the people who are forced out. The resentment comes from people seeing their institutions get pushed away. Now the neighborhood is going to change. That’s just the reality of New York. Everything is constantly in flux. But if it doesn’t happen so blatantly in disregard of the people who live there. I think we could create a place where people would feel more comfortable together.”

    Any large project like this is going to be a story of compromise. But assuming that SPURA gets the go ahead, and assuming that nothing gets re-worked or railroaded in as the developers start trying to make the cities guidelines fit with the economic realities of building in New York — a big assumption indeed — Ms. Toomer remains hopeful for the future, “The reality is that we’re running out of space. I think SPURN will be a great opportunity if it’s a real reflection of the neighborhood. There are hipsters, there are fake socialites, there’s euro trash, there’s hood, seniors, there’s everything here, which is dope. I hope SPURN could be an accurate reflection of that where people can actually thrive and create culture. I think we’ll have something really good.”

    http://observer.com/2012/09/spura-sp...elief-abounds/

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