Yesterday, the City Council heard public testimony about the future of the former ConEdison properties on Manhattan’s East River Waterfront, one of the largest undeveloped plots of land in Manhattan. It simultaneously heard testimony about Manhattan Community Board 6’s 197-a Plan, a comprehensive planning framework for the eastern section of the community board. Report after the jump.

The hearing began around 3:30 pm. Council Members Daniel Garodnick and Tony Avella co-chaired the meeting on behalf of their respective committees, Planning and Dispositions, and Zoning and Franchises.

First, the developer, East River Realty Company, presented its site-specific plan, which includes six residential buildings and a commercial office tower. Council Members present, including Garodnick, who represents the area, and Rosie Mendez, who represents the area south of the development, seemed frustrated and expressed concern about many issues left unsolved by ERRC. These included: traffic, as the project’s environmental impact statement has shown that the new development would cause congestion all the way into Queens; affordable housing, as the developer has not yet specified how much would be created on-site, how much would be new construction, and how much would be preservation; open space, as the community wants to ensure that it remains public in perpetuity; and the planned school – who will go there, when will it open, and who will pay for the land and the construction? As the development team’s housing representative was not present, and the team did not have concrete answers to any of these questions, Mendez and others requested that such information be provided before the full Council vote.

Next, the Council Members heard a presentation from representatives of Manhattan Community Board 6, who implored them to reinstate many changes made to their 197-a Plan by the City Planning Commission. These include creation of a special hospital use district in the area, a reduction of parking requirements in certain residential zones to decrease traffic congestion, and the limitation of office uses to west of second avenue. The Council Members thanked the Community Board representatives for all their hard, “thoughtful” work on this 197-a, which was completed in 2005. Council Member Avella pointed out to the audience that it is important to remember that even if the 197-a plan is approved, the developer will not be required to follow it, which is one of the remaining problems with the way community-based planning fits into the larger City planning process. (This is an issue that the Task Force will be addressing through proposed legislative changes in the near future).

Next, the Council Members heard public testimony. Over 60 people signed up to speak, with about half in favor and half opposed to the proposed development. We delivered our testimony, pointing out that the 197-a plan was held in the pipeline until the developer had a chance to catch up, which undermines the community board’s efforts and discourages other neighborhoods from planning for themselves in the future.

The City Council now has until Mid-March to vote on both plans. With so many questions remaining unanswered by ERCC, we expect this vote to come down to the wire.