Local elected officials have filed a lawsuit to prevent a trio of skyscrapers from rising in the Lower East Side, after the mayor's city planning agency voted to greenlight the controversial development earlier this week. The complaint, filed Friday afternoon by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Councilmember Margaret Chin, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, alleges that approval of the massive project was "nothing short of irrational, arbitrary and capricious and is incorrect as a matter of law."

The legal challenge follows a 10-3 vote by the City Planning Commission on Wednesday to permit construction of three residential towers in the Two Bridges section of the Lower East Side. The new developments will house a combined 2,775 new units, effectively tripling the number of authorized units in the area. Around a quarter of new apartments will be rented below market rate, though details about how affordable those units will be have not yet been released.

The projects include an 80-story building at 247 Cherry Street developed by JDS; two 60+-story dual towers at 260 South Street jointly developed by +M Development and CIM Group; and a 63-story apartment at 259 Clinton Street from Starrett Corporation.

The lawsuit names the City Planning Commission and its chair, Marisa Lago, as well as the Department of Buildings and the city of New York as defendants. At the heart of the grievance is the de Blasio administration's classification of the massive new development as a "minor modification," which means the towers can be built as-of-right, or without special approval.

The zoning law in this case dates back to 1961, when city planners envisioned the financial district would spread to the northeast, and placed no restrictions on buildings in Chinatown or the surrounding areas. As developers have set their sights on the waterfront property, the lax zoning restrictions have left the area "particularly vulnerable to new market-rate development," which may threaten "the existing low-income and immigrant communities and small businesses that serve them," according to a 2014 study from the Pratt Center for Community Development.

For years, local residents with the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors and Chinatown Working Group have battled the city over plans for new luxury towers in the neighborhood, including Extell's nearby 80-story condo at 252 South Street (also built as-of-right). Many residents have also pushed a rezoning that would cap buildings at 350 feet—an effort that would take years to complete.

While the most vocal local residents are looking to stymie all new major development in the neighborhood, members of the City Council are primarily calling for the projects to go through the Universal Land Use Review Procedure. The more rigorous ULURP process requires oversight hearings by the community board and borough president, as well as a City Council vote, which traditionally follows the recommendation of the local representative—in this case, Councilmember Margaret Chin. Skirting that process amounts to a "complete dismissal of the community's concerns and, frankly, the law as written," Chin said.

"This lawsuit was made necessary by the actions of the Department of City Planning and this Administration," Council Member Margaret Chin said in a statement. "My colleagues and I could not stand by as an entire neighborhood's worth of rezoning was categorized as a 'minor modification'."

Jeffrey Baker, a land use attorney who kept the Atlantic Yards development snarled in lawsuits for years, said such a legal challenge would likely be difficult to win. "There's a lot of deference that goes toward City Planning," he told Gothamist.

Commission members who supported the proposal, including CPC Chair Marisa Lago, have insisted that the towers complied with the existing zoning law. They also touted concessions from the developers, such as funding for local parks, accessibility upgrades at the East Broadway subway station, and $12.5 million for the Two Bridges NYCHA campuses. At least one CPC member felt "reluctance" over his yes vote, the Real Deal reports, but ultimately concluded that “our hands are tied, legally.”

The three CPC members who voted against the proposal argued that the legal interpretation for approving the skyscrapers as “minor modifications” was murky, and potentially at odds with a commission resolution from 1972. "I have a lot more questions than answers. I am going to vote no,” said CPC member Raj Rampershad, according to City Limits.

The lawsuit maintains that there are "clear and incontrovertible statutory requirements mandating the application of ULURP," and cites more recent developments, including the doomed Staten Island Wheel, as evidence that the City Planning Commission's reasoning for not triggering ULURP was misguided.

The Mayor's Office directed questions to the Department of City Planning, which did not immediately respond to our request for comment. Efforts to reach the developers were not successful. A statement issued by the developers earlier this week, before the lawsuit was filed, asserts, "The three proposed projects will deliver lasting and meaningful benefits for the Two Bridges community."

You can read the full lawsuit below.

City Council v City Planning by Anonymous zb4DMbDC on Scribd