(NEW YORK, NEW YORK)— In the drawn-out battle over the proposed Two Bridges development on the Lower East Side, Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron sided with local NYC activists against the developer, overturning the City’s 2018 approval for the plans, Gothamist reports. The two rulings were delivered earlier this week.
One suit was brought by Lower East Side Organized Neighbors (LESON), Chinese Staff & Workers Association, Youth Against Displacement and National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (a worker’s rights organization). Another was led by Tenants United Fighting for the Lower East Side (TUFF-LES), CAAV Organizing Asian Communities, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and LaGuardia Houses Tenants Association, an NYCHA public housing complex that was recently scheduled to be privatized and integrated with market-rate apartments.
Although the developer claims that they went through the right avenues to receive city approval, the Judge ruled that the city had not done due diligence in the Uniform Land Use and Review Procedure (ULURP). The decision rested on the case that the City had not done due diligence to prove that the development would not adversely affected access to light and air for residents of the surrounding, low-rise buildings, and significantly change the population volume in the area. The four towers will range between 724 to 1,0008 feet. The Judge Engoron also dismissed two of the three key points in one of the suits, City Limits reports. One of those—arguably the most critical to activists’ core motivations—was the accusation that the City had not accurately assessed the impact of displacement. While the court found the city’s initial impact assessments with regards to gentrification “dubious,” according to the ruling, the court did not have the authority rule on this account, since the city has considerable leeway to make that determination. It’s exactly this lack of stringency that is driving some activists to make “racialized displacement” as a codified point of institutional concern in future ULURP assessments.
The Two Bridges Developers, along with the overruled City Officials are seething as the state override’s the city’s previous ruling. The developers, JDS Development Group, L+M Development Partners, CIM Group, and Starrett Development, have vowed to appeal the decision. Despite the “common sense” impact assessments from multiple low-income community members (as well as anyone who has lived in new York long enough to know that where new developments rise, neighborhood rent prices rise too), the developers nonetheless insists that the building will benefit the low income residents who oppose it.
Meanwhile, community activists across the city are elated. As one of a series of recent rulings, the outcome represents a sea change in local politics. Trevor Holland, board member of TUFF-LESwhich lead a separate lawsuit against Two Bridges, told Gothamist, “It’s a great victory, and I’m happy [and] surprised. But we still have some work to do if we’re really going to protect this neighborhood.”
The Lower East Side has as always been an immigrant enclave. It was first populated by Eastern European Jews fleeing brutal discrimination and pogroms at the turn of the century. More recently, “Loisada” has been home to Hispanic immigrants, mostly from Puerto Rico and other Caribbean Islands. It has always been a low-income neighborhood: its early slums were famously documented by Jacob Riis. In the 1970s, its streets were also haven for starving artists and substance abusers, like Debbie Harry, Richard Hell, and Patti Smith; people would line up to buy heroin in broad daylight; arson was rampant.
It was also, in that time, still a vibrant family neighborhood. The long-standing Jewish community still thrived alongside the newer Puerto Rican one. Pictures of heroin abusers collapsed in the street coexisted with joyful street celebrations, family-owned shops, children who played in the street. It was also recently listed as one of the most endangered historic places as early as 2008, when rapid development and gentrification began to sweep away the low-scale tenement buildings and price out low-income people of color of the neighborhood’s past.
Ruth J. Abram, founder of the Lower East Side Tenement Building, told The New York Times in 2008, “We’re certainly interested in continued development in the area. But there surely should be a segment or segments of our area which are preserved, because we need the reality of the buildings to remind us of the experience lived and worked therein.” The same spirit seems to move TUFF-LES, LESON and other community activists today.