By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Around 200 East Side residents, concerned about sudden changes to a plan that proposes rebuilding sections of the parks close to the water, packed a meeting that was held to update the community on Tuesday night. The most significant departure from the original plan, known as the East Side Coastal Resiliency project, is a de facto rebuilding of the East River Park on top of flood protection rather than building the flood protection around the existing park.
Representatives from a number of city agencies were on hand at the event, which was held at Hunter’s Brookdale Campus on East 25th Street, a day after a similar meeting about the project on the Lower East Side.
Although most of the substantial changes announced at this meeting and an event held the day before on the Lower East Side were related to the plans for East River Park farther downtown, officials scheduled the second meeting at Brookdale at the insistence of Community Board 6 representatives and local elected officials, since the entire project area stretches up to East 25th Street.
Jamie Torres Springer, first deputy commissioner at the Department of Design and Construction, said that the only change for Project Area 2, which includes the span from 13th Street to 25th Street, is the addition of a flyover bridge at the pinch point near the Con Edison facility. Springer said that the mayor has made a commitment to address the pinch point, which makes pedestrian access near the facility difficult and often dangerous, but Springer did not have any specific information about where the funding for that part of the project would come from.
The previous plan also had construction on Asser Levy, Murphy’s Brother’s and Stuyvesant Cove Parks all happening simultaneously beginning in mid-2020, whereas now, the work will be staggered. Construction on Stuyvesant Cove is expected to begin in mid-2020 but work on Murphy’s Brother’s and Asser Levy playground are expected to start at different points in 2021. Stuyvesant Cove Park should be completed first by late 2022 with Murphy’s Brother’s shortly after, and Asser Levy playground is expected to reopen in 2023.
Springer said that ferry service may need to be relocated during the work on Stuyvesant Cove Park but the timeline specifies that work on that park won’t begin until after the L train shutdown is complete. Springer also noted that Stuy Cove may need to be closed at some point during the work but said that possibility was raised in the previous plan as well and was not necessarily a departure from what was already announced.
Community Board 6 also had a specific interest in the meeting because of a resolution the board passed on the project earlier this year opposing the plan if it included certain elements in the district that members felt would make the neighborhood less safe.
Stuyvesant Town resident and CB6 member Larry Scheyer was at the meeting and wanted to know if city officials had discussed the issues raised by the Community Board in April any further. The resolution from CB6 had argued that the construction of flood barriers as proposed in the plan would disrupt existing pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths, park spaces and roadways around Murphy’s Brother’s playground, Asser Levy playground and the recreation center.
Based on community feedback from residents in East Midtown Plaza, STPCV, Waterside Plaza and others and after meeting with the ESCR design team, CB6 advocated against the northern tieback to the VA flood wall at the proposed location on East 23rd Street and instead advocated for the tie-back to be placed along East 25th Street, which would allow the Asser Levy Playground and the recreation center to be protected by the same flood wall.
According to the resolution, however, the design team indicated that modifying the project in this way could result in additional complexity and cost for the project but wouldn’t significantly impact safety and quality of life, and Springer echoed this at the meeting.
“None of the options is perfect,” he admitted, “but the conclusion we came to is that the current location of the wall (at 23rd Street) has a number of advantages. The wall (as planned) will provide safety and security but (if we moved it to East 25th Street), we would have to do additional work on First Avenue.”
Concerning the plans for East River Park, the previous plan also would have required closing a lane of the FDR and dealing with Con Edison power lines, but building out the flood protection and reconstructing the park on top would eliminate these problems. Springer explained that the changes to the project were due to timeline concerns, and making these adjustments will allow the project to be finished one hurricane season earlier than the original plan. Instead of completion in 2024, the project is now expected to be finished by 2023, with operable flood protection systems in place earlier in the year before construction is fully complete.
“It is critical that we protect Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village and surrounding areas from the dangers of climate change, including extreme flooding,” Councilmember Keith Powers said of the importance of the plan. “I was glad the community was able to meet on Tuesday night to discuss the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, and I look forward to more meetings so that community input can be fully heard as designs develop. The next Superstorm Sandy is not a matter of if but when, and we need to be ready for it.”
The ESCR project is a federally and city-funded plan created in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and a need to protect coastal neighborhoods from flooding during major storms.