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Judge Blocks Lower East Side Luxury Towers – For Now

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Towers Blocked

A judge has temporarily blocked three more towers like One Manhattan Square (image via Google Maps).

Aug. 6, 2019

In a rare rebuke to all-powerful New York City real-estate developers, a state judge has temporarily blocked the construction of three massive condo towers on the Lower East Side, ordering the developers to go through the city’s lengthy and arduous citizens’ review process, the New York Times reports.

One supertall, known as One Manhattan Square, already soars alongside the Manhattan Bridge, but the judge’s order puts the brakes on the latest megaproject, known as Two Bridges, which would include three nearby luxury condo towers along the East River, one of which would stand more than 1,000 feet tall. The three towers would add nearly 3,000 apartments in a part of the city dotted with low-rise walk-ups and buildings that have been home to waves of immigrants – and where 37 percent of the residents live in poverty, more than double the overall rate in Manhattan, according to the census. The median family income is about $27,000. Even by contemporary New York standards, this is a stark tale of two cities.

The justice, Arthur F. Engoron of State Supreme Court, overruled a city agency’s approval of the project in 2016, ordering the developers to essentially start over and go through the city’s public review process. “The irreparable harm here is twofold,” Justice Engoron wrote in his opinion. “First, a community will be drastically altered without having had its proper say. Second, and arguably more important, allowing this project to proceed without the City Council’s imprimatur would distort the city’s carefully crafted system of checks and balances.” Engoron added that it was “somewhat Orwellian” for the city to have approved the project without public review after claiming it represents only a “minor” breach of zoning laws.

The justice’s searing opinion echoed what many opponents have said about similar supertall buildings in Manhattan, namely that they exacerbate gentrification, overwhelm neighborhoods, and displace less wealthy residents in favor of ultra-rich buyers who often do not live in their pricey apartments.

Judge Engoron’s ruling does not kill the Two Bridges project. The public review, however, will delay construction and require developers to seek additional community input. They can expect to get an earful.

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