Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Post 33: All or nothing at all

As always, with the exception of public figures, I use altered names to protect the individuals in this history.

The waterfront towers presented a wedge issue for the essential CWG program. Recall that CWG's first issue and its first action was to expand its borders to include its adjacent neighborhoods to avoid zoning one neighborhood at the expense of another adjacent, that the zoning not be racially discriminatory, given the ethnic differences between adjacent communities. You could call this CWG's first priority principle. 

The towers were planned only in the waterfront area of Two Bridges. Members of the community there, including Travis, and later the members of the group he organized TUFFLES (Tenants United Fighting for the Lower East Side), wanted a timely intervention to prevent construction of these out-of-scale luxury behemoths. Knowing that the city had already rejected the CWG plan as a whole because, the city claimed, the proposal was too ambitious -- covering too large a swath of land -- TUFFLES felt that promoting the CWG plan as a whole was a losing strategy. They opted for promoting just the CWG special district proposal for area D. 

Both CAAAV and GOLES both felt the need to aid the community there and joined with TUFFLES. This was not a possibility for CWG, given its priority principle, and since CWG was committed as much to the adjacent communities as it was to the waterfront community, it felt it couldn't abandon them in favor of one community alone. Protection for the waterfront alone would leave Chinatown especially vulnerable to development if developers, prevented from building at the waterfront, shifted their attention to Chinatown. On the other hand, the construction of the towers would negatively affect Chinatown, so preventing the towers was an urgent concern for Chinatown. Since the city rejected the CWG plan as a whole, it made sense for the waterfront locals to opt for a local solution and hope that it would help not hurt the adjacent neighborhoods. The CWG, recalling Rutgers' research on developments that sprout around the borders of a rezoned district, did not trust that hope and so opted for keeping the CWG plan together. 

For the Coalition, the towers had to be stopped somehow, without dividing the CWG plan. The only strategy on offer was a law suit to prevent the towers. For TUFFLES, GOLES and CAAAV, both strategies -- a piecemeal rezoning and a law suit -- were possible and both were pursued. From the perspective of the Coalition, the piecemeal rezoning was in effect an abandonment of all the other neighborhoods, especially Chinatown and the NYCHA properties both adjacent to the Two Bridges waterfront. 

It should be pointed out that the CWG did not participate in any of the law suits against the towers. Both the TUFFLES and Coalition law suits were inconsistent with the CWG's own priority principle, the motivation behind which was to never protect one neighborhood without protecting the adjacent ones. As long as the city did not protect the adjacent neighborhoods, any protection of the waterfront could endanger those adjacent neighborhoods. So CWG did not participate in the law suits. It did hold many discussions with the residents involved in the law suits. And remember, CWG is a planning group, not an activist group. The CWG's priority and strategic goal was to promote its comprehensive zoning plan. 

This difference of strategy became a sticking point, to put it mildly, between groups, CWG and the Coalition members who shared the goal of promoting the CWG plan, on one side, TUFFLES, GOLES, CAAAV on the other. Travis worked hard to get support also from the local councilmember and the borough president. A rezoning proposal for the waterfront, based on the CWG area D option, went forward, and is still in process at the moment of this writing. The law suit turned into three different suits presented all together, one from the council, one from TUFFLES and one from the Coalition. 

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