The City: LES and Chinatown Residents Sue To Halt New Towers in Two Bridges, Citing New NY Constitutional Right to Clean Air

Image for The City: LES and Chinatown Residents Sue To Halt New Towers in Two Bridges, Citing New NY Constitutional Right to Clean Air
A Lower East Side resident held an anti-Two Bridges development placard, Oct. 21, 2022. Credit: Stephon Johnson/The City.

Residents say they fear more pollution in an area that was hit hard by 9/11 and COVID-19 and are demanding a new environmental assessment that factors in the pandemic.

By Stephon Johnson, with additional reporting by Samantha Maldonado

As construction is slated to begin on three towers in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, a legal offense is mounting to stop it by invoking the new constitutional right in New York to “clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

On Friday, Councilmember Christopher Marte (D-Manhattan), the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side and other neighborhood residents filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court against the city and four property developers responsible for the construction of the Two Bridges towers, a multi-site development effort.

Bethany Li, legal director for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of community groups, said many who live in the area are medically vulnerable to air pollution, especially after 9/11.

“Some of the residents that we’re representing as plaintiffs have been there since then and actually have continued to experience respiratory illness and disease as a result,” Li said. “These environmental impacts, compounded post 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic and then adding these huge 60-something, 80-story towers to the neighborhood is really just going to be a knockout punch to the neighborhood.”

The suit argues that construction of the three 60 to 80 story buildings will exacerbate environmental and health burdens the neighborhood already faces, and infringe on residents’ newly established right to clean air and a healthful environment enshrined in the New York Constitution via a ballot proposal New Yorkers approved last November.

Marte, the local Council member, said that he is ready to take the Green Amendment out for a test drive.

“We’re excited to file this lawsuit,” he told THE CITY. “Tenants, residents, advocates have been organizing against these luxury towers for some time now, and…voters voted in the last New York state ballot for greater protection when it comes to clean air.

He added: “In this area there’s already a lot of climate injustice and a lot of racism when it comes to what gets developed and what gets filled and what gets repaired.”

Responding to concerns that the suit could create a new legal pathway for NIMBY or “Not in My Back Yard” actors across the city to block new developments, Stuart Sia, spokesman for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that’s a misreading of the term.

The spirit of NIMBYism, is ‘Don’t do this to us, do this to someone else,’” Sia said. “The largely Asian, Black, and Latino communities of LES and Chinatown have themselves been victims of NIMBYism. It is their backyards that harmful industries get dumped on and where unwanted developments that do more harm than good get erected. This [isn’t] so much about NIMBYism as it is about correcting the decades of historical environmental racism this neighborhood has faced. That’s what this lawsuit is about.”