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Testimony Of State Senator Thomas K. Duane Before Manhattan Borough President Public Hearing On The Former Con Edison First Avenue Properties

 

I am New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane and I represent the area just to the south of the former Con Edison Waterside properties, including Waterside Plaza and Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town, and the part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) Drive bordering the sites. I am pleased that the East River Realty Corporation (ERRC) has made changes to its original development plan for the former Con Edison First Avenue Properties to provide permanent, affordable housing and a space on the site for a public school. However, I remain concerned about ERRC's overall development plan and its impact on our community.

The concessions that ERRC recently announced are not insignificant. Our neighborhood deserves a new public school, which would serve the students who will reside in the new developments and alleviate the overcrowding in our community's existing schools. I also welcome ERRC's commitment to set aside 20% of the development's floor area for permanently affordable housing, which ideally should include units for families, single individuals and people with special needs. I thank Borough President Stringer, Councilmember Garodnick, and ERRC for this great step. That said, we will continue to urge ERRC to further modify its proposal to conform to the character of the surrounding blocks, and to make a larger contribution to the immediate community, adjacent neighborhoods and New York City as a whole.

As discussed at Manhattan Community Board 6's (CB6) public hearing on ERRC's Supplemental Environmental Impact Study ("the SEIS"), the development will have a significant effect on the community immediately surrounding the sites. The heights of the seven tower buildings -- six residential, one commercial -- most of which are 50-70 stories high, are still too high and inappropriate for the neighborhood, where most buildings reach only as high as 40 residential stories. I also have concerns that there is no guarantee that the proposal's public open space leading to the waterfront will be truly public and permanent and that there will be a substantial increase in traffic and congestion in the neighborhood.

As ERRC seeks a rezoning to develop more than nine acres of waterfront property, it is critical that East Siders retain access to a significant share. There is not only a tremendous lack of public open space in CB6, there also is a shortage of open public space generally in Manhattan. While the SEIS "finds that that the Proposed Actions would not result in any significant adverse impacts to open space resources," and in fact, "would introduce approximately 4.84 acres of new publicly accessible open space," I nonetheless have serious concerns about the configuration of that open space, in terms of how publicly accessible it really would be and how effectively it would provide public access to and along the riverfront.

I also remain concerned about the effects of the increased traffic that the development will inevitably bring to the neighborhood. The ERRC proposal calls for a mixed use zoning, and the SEIS noted that commercial zoning with office use typically brings more cars to an area than other uses. As we saw during the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in late September, our area already bears the burden of tremendous traffic congestion and any increase virtually paralyzes our neighborhood. The residents and businesses cannot bear the increase in vehicular traffic, noise and air pollution that the high density ERRC development would permanently bring to our already crowded streets.

I still believe that incorporating elements of the 197c Plan submitted by CB6 will lessen the negative impacts and will result in a better environment for both the present area residents and the future residents of the sites as well as the people who will be working there. Indeed, the SEIS acknowledges in its executive summary that the CB6 Alternative "would be compatible with surrounding land uses and densities, and its proposed zoning changes would not result in impacts" (S-63).

Again, I applaud ERRC's recently announced changes to its development plan. However, there is still much to be done in order to meet the needs of our community and our city. I encourage ERRC to heed the concerns voiced this evening and incorporate even more of CB6's 197c plan, as it provides for primarily residential use and public open space as well as affordable housing and community facilities in a density that is in scale with the neighborhood. This will serve to strengthen the vitality of any commercial development as well as the quality of life for the present and future residents of the East Side and our City.