By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Community Board 6 and 3 recently formed a joint task force to offer guidance on how new features along the East Side waterfront can be incorporated into a recently-funded project focused on waterfront resiliency. The new task force met for the first time this past Monday to discuss preliminary ideas for the project and is composed of 11 representatives, including members of CB3, CB6 and various community stakeholders.
CB6 chair Sandro Sherrod, who is also chairing the task force, said that while construction isn’t expected to begin until at least 2017 and the project is currently in the conceptual design phase, the task force is planning to have additional meetings and invite the public to look at different options and various design elements.
The project, which is spearheaded by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR), is known as the BIG U and is the result of a design competition that was held by Housing and Urban Development in which participants came up with ideas on how to fix areas that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. HUD approved $335 million in funding for the project last October.
The BIG U in the project refers to a ten-mile long protective barrier to be built along the east side of Manhattan from East 42nd Street down to the Battery, then looping in a U shape up to East 57th Street. Instead of typical flood barriers and walls, the project proposes to include seawalls, raised pathways, parks, locally appropriate berms and mechanized operable barriers. The plan splits the project into three distinct zones, one of which is the area between Montgomery Street on the Lower East Side and East 23rd Street.
The “zone” from Montgomery Street on the Lower East Side along the waterfront extends to East 23rd Street but this area is split into two different parts. The first project area includes the region below East 14th Street, which includes a number of NYCHA developments on the Lower East Side that were badly damaged by flooding, currently has more concrete design plans than the second project area but the task force will be working with the BIG U team to solidify ideas for the area north of East 14th Street.
Since the project area as a whole mostly encompasses Community Board 3, the task force is composed primarily of representatives from organizations active in the Lower East Side as well as members of Community Board 3, but there are three members representing the area above East 14th Street as well.
Stuyvesant Town resident and chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association Susan Steinberg and Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, are the community stakeholders representing Community District 6 and Ellen Imbimbo, who is chair of the 197a Committee for the Land Use and Waterfront Committee, is the representative for Community Board 6.
Steinberg noted that the plans for the project area that encompasses Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are somewhat vague at this point, but the meeting held on Monday was meant to initiate community involvement in the process.
“What they want to do is make sure that the design reflects the needs of the community,” Steinberg said. “The presentation they made addressed what the design team is hoping to accomplish in terms of resiliency and barriers and in ways that would enjoy the waterfront, so it’s not just an unsightly, big, orange barrier.”
Community Board 6’s Land Use and Waterfront committee has long been involved in attempts to make the waterfront more accessible for recreational use, including the ongoing attempt to make kayaking at Stuyvesant Cove Park a permanent fixture in the community during the summer months, but CB6 chair Sandro Sherrod said that this project is more focused on resiliency and protection from future storms.
The East River Blueway Plan, which was backed by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and other local politicians, offered a similar plan to protect the infrastructure along the waterfront but since it was created before Hurricane Sandy occurred, Sherrod noted that it was more shortsighted than the current project.
“The Blueway plan was more of a visioning but (The Big U) plan has funding,” Sherrod said. “That plan focused on resiliency as well but it was created before Sandy so we’re hoping this project is a little more fleshed out, so we’re looking at everything with the full 20/20 vision.”