Plan for Supertall Tower Looming Over Lower East Side Is Halted, for Now

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The constant charge of high-rise developments that have demolished, rebuilt and reshaped so many New York City neighborhoods has largely marched on unimpeded in recent years despite fierce objections from community groups and preservationists.

That changed on Thursday.

A state justice in Manhattan ruled that one of the latest mega projects, known as Two Bridges on the Lower East Side, could not continue as planned, issuing a stinging rebuke to developers who have wanted to build three luxury waterfront apartment towers with some affordable units, one of which would stand over 1,000 feet.

The buildings, between the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges on the East River, would add nearly 3,000 apartments and soar above a part of the city dotted with low-rise walk-ups and buildings that have been home to waves of immigrants.

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 lengthy and arduous public review process.

The justice’s searing opinion echoed what many opponents have said about similar super-tall buildings in Manhattan: They overwhelm the neighborhood, disrupt the character of the area and displace less wealthy residents.

“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.”

The story of New York City over the past decades has been of constant redevelopment, spurred by city investments, eager developers and low crime. Residential towers have sprouted around Central Park, Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City in Queens, among other areas.

But those projects, including Two Bridges, have been increasingly met with intense resistance. Critics have blamed developers for exacerbating gentrification, increasing the cost of housing and building palatial penthouses for the uber-wealthy, some of whom do not even live in them.

Developers and urban planning specialists have countered that New York has been a city in constant churn and that remaking neighborhoods is crucial to the city’s economic vitality and its place as a global capital.

On the Lower East Side, however, neighborhood groups say that Two Bridges will displace residents and raise property taxes beyond what people can afford. Francisca Benítez, who had spoken out against the development, said on Friday that she worried that the judge’s ruling was only a temporary setback.

“By refusing to approve these towers outright, the court disagrees with Mayor de Blasio’s total disregard for the community and his support for rich developers,” Ms. Benítez said. “This process is sure to get the towers approved with crumbs offered by the developers.”

Two Bridges would tower over Chinatown to the north and the Vladeck public housing project to the east. Thirty-seven percent of the residents in the surrounding area live in poverty — more than double the overall rate in Manhattan, according to the census. The median family income is about $27,000.

The striking income inequality throughout the city has spurred Mayor Bill de Blasio to pledge to preserve or construct 300,000 affordable units for poor, low-income and working-class tenants by 2026.

While the city is on track to have 200,000 units within three years, the mayor’s goal requires the cooperation of developers like those at Two Bridges. The developers agreed to set aside roughly 700 apartments in the buildings at below-market rates, which could make them eligible for generous New York City tax breaks.

It is not clear whether nearby residents could afford one of the units. About 300 of the apartments would be available to people who make about 40 percent of the city’s median income, which is about $43,000 for a family of four.

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