The Real Deal New York

City Council wastes no time suing city over Two Bridges developments

Council claims City Planning should have sent proposed towers through full land-use review process
By Rich Bockmann | December 07, 2018 12:30PM

Corey Johnson, Marisa Lago and a rendering of Two Bridges

Just two days after city planners green-lighted a quartet of new apartment towers to be developed in the Two Bridges section of Manhattan, the City Council and Borough President Gale Brewer followed through on their pledge to sue in order to stop the projects from going forward.

The Council and Brewer filed their lawsuit in Manhattan state Supreme Court Friday against the Department of City Planning, the City Planning Commission and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, claiming city planners usurped the Council’s authority over land-use issues in approving the project.

“Conveniently, DCP has improperly designated these modifications as ‘minor,’ which would exempt these projects from the entirety of the ULURP process and deprive the Council of its oversight and regulatory role over these projects and the Borough President of her role to review and make recommendations,” the lawsuit claims. “Projects of this magnitude are required to undergo the full battery of hearings and oversight that ULURP provides.”

Representatives for the Department of City Planning and City Hall were not immediately available for comment.

The Council and borough president’s argument relies on a technical interpretation of the 1972 large-scale residential development (LSRD) permit covering the Two Bridges neighborhood, which gives the city more flexibility to approve development projects by granting waivers to certain sections of the zoning resolution.

Two years ago, Michael Stern’s JDS Development Group, Starrett Development and a joint-venture between Ron Moelis’ L+M Development Partners and CIM Group filed plans for three developments along the East River in Two Bridges that would combine for 2.5 million square feet of new space and 2,700 new housing units.

When the developers filed their plans, they sought what they deemed to be minor modifications to the 1972 permit to allow for variations to the locations and envelopes of the new buildings, as well as additional floor area and more retail space.

But local elected officials point out that the tallest of the four towers – at 80 stories – will be much larger than the current buildings in the neighborhood, and that the developments will triple the number of existing housing units. This, they argue, constitutes a major modification to the area’s plan, and requires a full review under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process.

The Department of City Planning, then under the direction of Carl Weisbrod, sought to ease tensions over the projects by conducting an environmental impact study, which gave local community members more input. But ultimately the department decided that the towers required only a minor modification, keeping regulatory oversight out of the hands of the Council.

Land-use attorney Ross Moskowitz of Stroock, Stroock, and Lavan, who is not involved in either the lawsuit or any of the proposed developments, has been watching the developments in Two Bridges closely, and said it’s “unusual for the City Council to sue over a decision by the executive.”

“The basis seems to be the interpretation of what constitutes a minor modification,” he added. “The burden is on the Council to prove that the agency was arbitrary and capricious in their decision-making process.”