Inside the NYC Planning Commission hearing on the Two Bridges development project last October (photo by author)

Only a few months ago, the odds seemed stacked against local residents and business-owners opposing the construction of a luxury waterfront apartment tower atop a Lower East Side senior residence and retail space in the Two Bridges neighborhood. But a recent ruling from New York Supreme Court may altogether stop the multimillion-dollar project in its tracks.

A panel of appellate judges has said that the storefront’s long-term leaseholder must have a say in how the property’s development rights get used. Little Cherry is a ground tenant for the space at 235 Cherry Street, a now-vacant building that once housed a Rent-a-Center and pharmacy for the neighborhood’s Pathmark supermarket. According to the court’s decision, construction cannot proceed without the express consent of Little Cherry, which has another 25 years on its lease.

The proposed 100-story skyscraper is just one in a series of luxury complexes funded in part by L+M Development Partners, CIM Group, and JDS Development Group. The latter, along with its principal Michael Stern, would like to see its 1,000-foot tower cantilevered above the one-story brick building, sitting atop the Two Bridges Senior Apartments next door. But without Cherry Street’s development rights, that will now be difficult.

“He can’t build his megaproject without getting our client’s consent. And we’re refusing to give our consent,” Raymond Hannigan, the tenant’s attorney, told online publication The City.

A spokesperson for JDS insisted that the ruling would not change the company’s building plans, and that the development group will “continue to defend the case vigorously.”

Opponents of the luxury complex disagree, defining the court order as a major win. “It gives Little Cherry an enormous amount of leverage to basically say no to this building,” Trever Holland told the publication.

A longtime neighborhood activist with Tenants United Fighting for the Lower East Side (TUFF-LES) who lives near the site and has been against the Two Bridges development for years, Holland anticipates that the lawsuit will ultimately end with a financial settlement between Little Cherry and JDS. Still, he hopes that the delay will give activists time to develop their own plan for the area.

“Let them fight. Let them go on, delay,” he added. “But in the end, when they finish, we’re hoping that all those proposed towers cannot happen.”

A rendering of a planned tower as part of the Two Bridges development that would be built over a senior housing complex and a one-story building along Cherry Street (image via JDS Development Group)

What is happening to the Two Bridges neighborhood has spurred a reform movement for the city’s zoning laws. In June, a coalition of grassroots organizations — including artists and art dealers — rallied around a lawsuit filed by Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer and City Hall, who sued the Department of City Planning in December to stymie the skyscrapers. That decision came after the New York City Planning Commission voted in favor of the controversial development despite disapproval from hundreds of New Yorkers who attended its October hearing.

The key issue before the court in that case is a 1972 rule that defines large-scale residential developments as “minor” modifications, which are not required to pass through the full Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) that would solicit more community involvement and scrutiny towards the developments. The Supreme Court would not grant the lawsuit its motion for a temporary restraining order against the developments, but more lawsuits were filed on March 23 against the project by activist groups including Chinese Staff and Workers Association (CSWA), which have made their way through the courts.

In June, Manhattan Supreme Court extended a temporary halt on construct by two months with a promise to deliver a final verdict in August. That decision would affect all three skyscraper projects in the works.

“These are huge towers,” Judge Arthur Engoron said about the case. “I’ve lived in the city my whole life. You can’t just do this because the zoning allows it. I just can’t believe this is the case.”

Zachary Small was a writer at Hyperallergic.