amNewYork: Lower East Side, Chinatown residents sue to stop tower developments based on ‘Green Amendment’

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Bethany Li speaks at a press conference on Oct. 21, 2022. Credit: Gabriele Holtermann/AMNY.

By Gabriele Holtermann/amNewYork

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) held a press conference on Oct. 21 detailing a lawsuit they filed against the city and developers of the Two Bridges Project on behalf of City Councilmember Christopher Marte (D-Manhattan), the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, and community residents.

With the lawsuit, Lower East Side and Chinatown residents are attempting to block the construction of the Two Bridges Project, put forth by Cherry Street Owner LLC, Two Bridges Senior Apartments, L.P., Two Bridges Associates, L.P., and LE1 SUB LLC, which includes an 80-story tower at 247 Cherry St., two towers of 69-stories and 62-stories at 260 South St., and a 63-story tower at 259 Clinton St.

The suit argues that construction at this scale violates the “Green Amendment,” which New Yorkers approved last November. The amendment guarantees each person’s right “to clean air and water, and a healthful environment,” and the lawsuit is the first time the “Green Amendment” has been used to stop the construction of a “mega project.”

The plaintiffs assert that the large-scale Two Bridges Project would exacerbate respiratory, cardiovascular and mental health issues already suffered by community residents, many of whom are Black, Latino and Asian American.

“We’re here today to put an end to environmental racism — something that this community has experienced for generations,” Marte said. “The reason why they’re allowed to build these developments and do what they want is because the city hasn’t passed protective zoning to care for our district, not only the residents but also the small businesses. And what we’ve seen across the Lower East Side, from Jacob Riis Houses to East River Park to now the Two Bridges, is that the developer colludes with the city to only care about profit, but not people. But we’re here today with this lawsuit to put an end to that.”

Bethany Li, legal director of AALDEF, pointed out that asthma had disproportionately impacted residents in the neighborhood after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and that the asthma rates in this neighborhood were higher than any other in the city because of all of the toxic fumes that continue to linger from gasoline storage units, gas stations, and environmental toxins that were dumped in the Lower East Side.

The Lower East Side was once “home” to countless automobile repair shops and gas stations, resulting in oil spills and soil and groundwater contamination. The 9/11 attacks greatly impacted Chinatown and the Lower East Side due to their close proximity to the toxic cloud of dust and fumes resulting from the World Trade Center’s collapse.

“In recent years, the rates of emergency room visits due to asthma has more than doubled that of other neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan,” Li said. “The air pollution that comes from this construction will further exacerbate all of the respiratory illnesses that residents in this community have already been suffering as a result of 911 and the pandemic.”