Since being cleared for redevelopment in 1967, several city blocks at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge on the Lower East Side — known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, or SPURA — have lain fallow. For decades, the largest undeveloped, city-owned land below 96th Street was used only for surface parking lots. After years of planning work, this afternoon marked the deadline for developers to submit bids for the site to the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
With today’s milestone, it’s worth remembering how EDC’s plan to transform the SPURA parking lots still encourages developers to build more parking than would otherwise be allowed.
The SPURA project, sitting atop four subway lines, includes 1,000 new housing units, half of which would be designated as “permanently affordable,” new commercial uses, and an expansion of the Essex Street Market. Under the city’s parking maximums, which have limited the addition of parking in much of Manhattan since 1982, no more than 345 parking spaces would be allowed. Those “accessory” spaces are meant for use by building tenants. The project’s own environmental impact statement estimates that the project’s maximum demand for parking would be only 257 spaces.
But EDC has received a special permit enabling up to 500 public parking spots at the SPURA development. And the agency told Streetsblog last year that it wants to replace every one of the approximately 400 parking spaces currently on site. As with its other development projects, EDC is apparently unwilling to let this site become a more urban place with less parking than exists today.
“The worst thing we could do,” EDC President Seth Pinsky told Streetsblog in 2010, “is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking.”
Meanwhile, the Department of City Planning is approaching the finish line with its proposal to amend the rules governing off-street parking in Manhattan below East 96th Street and West 110th Street.
The plan, which contains many positive changes, such as eliminating parking requirements for affordable housing and retroactively applying stricter parking regulations to pre-1982 development, also contains some potential pitfalls. For example, it may make it easier for developers to obtain special permits to build public parking garages that exceed parking maximums — the process that EDC has exploited to cram up to 500 parking spots into the SPURA project.
The Manhattan Core parking policy change was approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee last week, 16-0, with one abstention (Jessica Lappin). Next it goes before the full City Council, followed by a signature from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.