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Seward Park Co-op to Vote on Air Rights Sale

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Seward Park Air

The landmarked Bialystoker nursing home on East Broadway will soon be flanked by two luxury condo towers. The only question is: how tall will they be? (image via Google Maps).

June 11, 2018

Shareholders in the sprawling Seward Park Co-op on the Lower East Side will vote tomorrow, June 12, on whether to sell 162,000 square feet of air rights for $54 million. Ascend Group plans to build two condo towers on land adjacent to the co-op, flanking the landmarked Bialystoker nursing home. Securing the co-op’s air rights will allow the developer to erect much taller buildings, which will block views and sunlight from some apartments. The 11-member co-op board unanimously backs the sale, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to pay down debt, fund capital improvements, and keep maintenance low. The issue has divided the co-op, according to the New York Times. Here are the opinions, pro and con, of two shareholders. 

Pro. In emails, shareholder Lisa Kearns writes: 

“Whether we sell the air rights or not, we’ll be living in a construction zone, and we’ll end up with at least a 20-story tower. There’s a 30-story tower going up a few blocks away, and the odious Extell building on South Street will be 80 stories, so the tenor of the neighborhood will change no matter what happens to our air rights. And air rights or no, the lovely Bialystoker building will be engulfed. The $54 million is very persuasive, especially living in 60-year-old buildings in need of capital improvements.” 

Later that day, Kearns added: 

“I just got back from the final informational meeting. It really is a no-brainer. The amount of debt the coop has already and that will only increase as capital improvements are made will mean continuous assessments and maintenance hikes. This huge cash influx will help Seward Park remain affordable for a wide variety of people and help maintain the diversity that many of us who live here value. I'd never heard the diversity/affordability argument until this meeting.”

Con. In The Lo-Down, shareholder Barbara Katz Rothman writes: 

“My apartment overlooks the land that is in dispute. Because I think we shouldn’t sell these air rights, I am told that I am resistant to change, not accepting of the world we live in, too rich to care, and some other uglier things. It warms me that when those of us in opposition to this sale meet, we do it in an apartment on the other side of the building, with [the contested land] nowhere to be seen. Some of us are directly affected, some of us not. We are united in our opposition to this sale. 

“Why? For one thing, we think that increasing neighborhood density any further is not a great plan. When people aren’t fighting about air rights, they seem to be complaining mostly about traffic. I live on Grand and Clinton, believe me, I get the problem with the traffic. This is rich people’s housing that is being put up – I don’t think they’ll be on the subways so much as jockeying for more parking spaces and using Uber and Lyft rides, with more and more cars hovering in the neighborhood.  That is partly a problem of space, but also a problem of environmental damage and noise.

“Some of our apartments will lose every bit of light and air. Some of us feel that our particular apartments are going to go down in value. But the buildings in which we live are getting old, elevators need repair, there are expenses. Some of us, for a host of reasons, can barely afford to live here, have a hard time meeting our expenses, and the thought of a maintenance increase of $100 a month to meet an urgent expense is terrifying. 

“At an informational meeting, a lot of people spoke against the sale – for a host of reasons: people who worried about air quality; those who were concerned about losing the privacy of our park space to the newcomers; a father who felt he couldn’t justify to his children being in cahoots with the real estate industry; and yes, of course, some of us who are personally affected.”

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