The Real Deal New York

Two Bridges developers head into the lion’s den

JDS, L+M, CIM and Starrett facing resistance from community over three megaprojects

From left: Renderings of the Two Bridges Towers (credit: CityRealty) with JDS’ Michael Stern, CIM’s Alex Kafenbaum and Starrett’s Josh Siegel

Michael Stern was approaching the lectern when a booming voice from the back of the Gouverneur Health Center on Madison Street stopped him in his tracks. “Boo!” the young man screamed, directing his anger at the JDS Development Group CEO and stunning the room into silence. “You greedy corporate fuck! Fuck JDS, you greedy corporate motherfucker!”

The outburst set off 10 minutes of argument between factions of attendees who wanted to hear representatives for developers who collectively plan a quartet of massive residential towers in Two Bridges, and those who felt the developers were indifferent to the community’s concerns, putting on a dog-and-pony show to inveigle public support.

The former bloc eventually won out. For the next hour or so Stern and his fellow developers from L+M Development Partners, CIM Group and Starrett Development discussed their projects in the context of an environmental impact study that will assess how the combined developments will affect traffic congestion and school enrollment in the neighborhood, which includes mostly low-income- and senior housing.

Opposition to new development has been brewing in the neighborhood for years, but hit a flashpoint when Extell Development began working on its 800-foot-tall One Manhattan Square condo tower at 250 South Street, which is already rising about two dozen stories out of the ground.

Extell’s project, along with the three others set to rise next to it along the East River, are being developed of-right, meaning they need no special approvals from the city to go forward. But after a failed attempt to force them through the city’s laborious land use-review process, the trio of developments will now undergo an environmental study to determine what – if anything – can be done to mitigate any negative effects they’ll have on the community.

Attendees brought up topics like construction noise, displacement and the light and air the tall towers would block.

Gary Handel, the architect for the pair of 730-foot and 800-foot-tall towers L+M and CIM are developing at 260 South Street, said the team had originally considered a broader, single building rising 600 feet tall. But that would have blocked light and air going into the pair of Section 8 buildings L+M and CIM own next door, so they decided to go with a pair of taller but skinnier towers.

“That creates a taller building, but allows light and air into that courtyard,” he explained.

Stern noted that while his 247 Cherry Street development and the other buildings will add about 2,700 new housing units to the area, all of the developers are setting aside 25 percent of the apartments at below-market rents.

“We’re building a lot of market-rate units, which I think is a big focus. But this is also the single-largest creation of affordable units in one shot in this district in a very long time,” he said.

Still, the big question that remained unanswered by the end of the meeting is what would be done to temper the inevitable gentrification these three projects will bring to the area. Stern said it was up to the local elected officials, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the developers to decide what income levels to set the affordable units at. The answer was not a crowd-pleaser.

Neighborhood resident Ozzie Hernandez was particularly concerned about what would happen to the Stop 1 Deli at 265 Cherry Street, one of the existing L+M/CIM buildings adjacent to its planned 1,350-unit complex.

Hernandez said Stop 1, the only source for food near the building, had been in court for the past year with L+M.

“So what’s going to happen?” he asked. “Are you going to renew their lease? Or is it going to be commercial displacement?”

A representative for L+M, Katherine Kelman, said the developer wasn’t looking to do expensive big-box retail at the site, and the kinds of retailers the company is looking for are in the vein of food or other similar neighborhood retail. She said that once the project moves closer to construction, “we’ll have to have a conversation with the owner of that business to see if they’d like to stay.”

“So what you’re saying to me, if I understand you correctly,” Hernandez responded, “is if they want to say in the community there’s an opportunity to stay and we’re not talking about tripling their rent as a way to get them out, because that’s always the option that you guys have to do that. It’s very simple for you to say, ‘Yea we want you to stay, but you’ve got to pay four times your rent’ and make it unattainable for them.”

“We understand and we know that tenant very well,” Kelman said. “It will be a discussion closer to that time whether they’d like to stay or not, and we’ll have a commercial discussion at that time.”