NEW YORK – Wednesday afternoon, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and Council Member Margaret S. Chin officially filed paperwork at the Department of City Planning’s 120 Broadway intake office to amend the zoning text governing the Two Bridges neighborhood and protect the area from out-of-scale luxury developments made possible by the abuse of a zoning loophole. The application is the first submitted solely by elected officials in roughly 15 years.
“This is the real estate business in New York: there’s intense pressure to find and exploit loopholes to build huge ultraluxury buildings,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “That’s what’s happening in Two Bridges, where massive out-of-scale towers could move forward because of a staff-level determination that they are only a ‘minor modification’ to the neighborhood’s plan. Sometimes you need to clarify rules to make sure they’re enforced, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
“Today, I join Manhattan Borough President Brewer to renew our demand that our city provide the Two Bridges community a real opportunity to shape the future of their neighborhood,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “In order to turn the tide against out-of-control overdevelopment across our city, we need to act decisively and close loopholes that would allow for the construction of out-of-scale luxury towers without a robust and transparent public review. This text amendment marks the latest chapter in our fight to strengthen the community’s voice in the land use process, and preserve the legacy of affordable housing that Two Bridges residents are fighting to protect.”
The Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Permit, first issued in 1972, governs two blocks within the former Two Bridges Urban Renewal Area, which was created in 1967. These blocks’ zoning, in effect, was adopted as a single, highly specific special permit. Today, developers are attempting to carve pieces out of this comprehensively-planned area and proceed with out-of-scale luxury developments soaring to heights as high as 950 feet, departing dramatically from the special permit.
While Borough President Brewer, Council Member Chin, and the area’s other city, state, and federal elected officials argued in a joint letter to the Department of City Planning that these development proposals constituted major departures from the special permit and therefore required a full public review through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), staff at the Department of City Planning decided to treat these as “minor modifications” exempt from ULURP, requiring only a joint environmental impact review. Brewer, Chin, and attorneys from the Urban Justice Center all argued this interpretation was incorrect and created a massive loophole in the zoning rules.
The draft zoning text amendment submitted by Brewer and Chin would require a new special permit for certain developments in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Area, to clarify that large, out-of-scale development proposals are not “minor modifications” to this area’s plan and would require full public review under ULURP.
Brewer and Chin provided the Dept. of City Planning with a proposed draft of their planned zoning amendment on Oct. 12, along with a letter explaining why the Department should waive a number of its pre-application steps, as it often does for applications from government agencies. Since then, the Council enacted Local Law 234, legislation sponsored by Council Member Chin that allows borough presidents and the Land Use Committee of the City Council to exempt their applications from the Department’s time-consuming pre-application filing and meeting requirements.
Today’s filing was made under the new law, so Brewer and Chin’s application will proceed directly to technical review and then will be referred out by the Department of City Planning for the public review process.