City Planning Approves Two Applications to Facilitate the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project

Rendering of proposed flood resiliency infrastructure./Image Credit: DDC, Parks, DOT, DEP, and Mayor’s Office of Resiliency/CPC

The project is predicted to protect over 110,000 Lower Manhattan residents from flood and storm impacts. On September 23, 2019, the City Planning Commission voted to approve two applications regarding the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project which addresses coastal flood vulnerabilities in Lower Manhattan. The project area is bounded by East 25th Street to the north, Montgomery Street to the south, and the East River to the east. The area runs along the FDR Drive and adjacent parks such as the East River Park and Stuyvesant Cove Park. The Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Protection, Small Business Services, and Department of City Administrative Services are the applicants.

The applications propose two land use actions. The first action is to obtain the right to access private property adjacent to the proposed floodgates, floodwalls, sewage system, and flyover bridges, in order to go on the property for inspections, maintenance, and repair of the infrastructure. The applicants also propose a zoning text amendment because the proposed floodwalls and gates on Stuyvesant Cove Park would be too tall for what is currently allowed by the Zoning Resolution. The amendment would allow the proposed flood walls and gates to be compliant and remain on the park.

On June 25 and 26, 2019, Manhattan Community Board 3 and Community Board 6 voted to approve the project with modifications. Both community boards expressed a need for flood protections along the coast but raised concerns regarding access to the waterfront areas during construction.

On July 30, 2019, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer approved the project with conditions. Borough President Brewer primarily focused on the need for community involvement and transparency throughout the project’s construction.

On July 31, 2019, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the application. Jamie Torres-Springer of the Department Design and Construction, Alyssa Cobb Konon of the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Carrie Grassi of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency presented the project at the hearing

Vice Chair Kenneth J. Knuckles asked about measures to avoid flooding in residential areas. Jamie Torres-Springer stated that flaws in the water and sewer infrastructure would be fixed and small sewers would be added to detain and move water into pump stations.

Commissioner Michelle de la Uz asked about the former plan to build a wall along the FDR Drive and what made the team change this plan. Torres-Springer explained that the former plan required nighttime construction resulting in at least four years of nighttime lane closures and noise concerns to nearby NYCHA developments. He also explained that the current plan would provide more reliable protection and would rehabilitate the park faster after a storm.

In response to Commissioner de la Uz’s question on infrastructure maintenance, Carrie Grassi stated that the Department of Transportation will be responsible for the floodwall and gates and the Department of Environmental Protection will be responsible for the sewer system.

Commissioner Larisa Ortiz had concerns on transportation accessibility during construction.  Torres-Springer stated that both ferry stops will be retained and bike lanes on First and Second Avenues would be available. The applicants will be talking to Council Member Carlina Rivera into expanding protected bike lane capacity into Avenues A and B. However, Commissioner Ortiz said that this issue must be thought through because the current alternatives are far removed from the affected neighborhoods.

At the hearing, Manhattan Borough President Brewer recommended a phased timeline for the construction to avoid complete closure of the park and for independent non-New York-based consultants to review the project.

Many members of the public testified at the hearing and agreed that flood protection was needed. However, concerns for the project included the lack of transparency between the applicants and the community, noise from the planned construction, and neighborhood facilities access during construction.

The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project was created in response to Hurricane Sandy’s impact on Lower Manhattan. It is the City’s first major effort to provide flood protection along the East River. Its goals focus on providing flood protection, resiliency, and improving waterfront open spaces and access.

The project will implement a reliable and integrated flood protection system that includes several elements. East River Park will be elevated eight feet from its current location to protect the park and nearby neighborhoods from flooding. Floodwalls and floodgates will be installed in areas where the land cannot be raised. The sewage system in the area will be expanded to ensure water moves out from streets to prevent inland flooding.

Existing flyover bridges over the FDR to the park would be improved and a new flyover bridge will be created around 14th Street to increase waterfront access. There will be infrastructure improvements to nearby parks to increase waterfront usage.

The project was created based on projections of climate change of the 2050s. The infrastructure is expected to last into the 2100s. Upon approval, construction is expected to begin in March 2020 and flood protection will be put into operation before the 2023 hurricane season. Since September of 2018, the applicants sought public feedback for the project.

[UPDATE]: On September 23, 2019, the City Planning Commission approved the applications, with Commissioner Allen P. Cappelli voting to disapprove the project and Commissioner Michelle de la Uz abstaining.

Commissioners who voted to approve the applications acknowledged the project’s impact on the community but felt that the threat of climate change was more urgent and needed to be addressed.

In explaining his disapproval, Commissioner Cappelli stated that the project “undermines the community’s faith in government and the ability to plan efficiently.”

Commissioner de la Uz explained her abstention by stating that there were still concerns with the project and she hopes that it would be addressed at the Council level.

The City Council will hear this application on October 3, 2019.


By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)

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