Charges keep zinging, but zoning approval expected


By Albert Amateau

Supporters of the proposed East Village/Lower East Side rezoning told the City Council Zoning Subcommittee last week that the changes are desperately needed to control rampant high-rise development in the 111-block area. But they urged the council to find a way to get more affordable housing opportunities into the plan.

Opponents continued to decry the plan for not including all of Chinatown and other areas, and said it would cause “secondary displacement” from neighborhoods bordering the rezoning area.

However, it was expected that the full City Council would approve the rezoning today, Wed., Nov. 19.

Yet, last week, the public debate raged on in the Council Chamber.

Some Chinatown groups remained bitterly opposed to the proposal that does not include their neighborhood, and they repeated angry charges of “racist rezoning.”

The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors a.k.a. BAN continued to denounce the plan for not downzoning the Bowery-Fourth Ave. corridor where tall hotel towers are changing the low-rise character of the neighborhood.

City Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Rosie Mendez, whose districts cover the proposed rezoning area, both acknowledged that the rezoning was necessary but should be improved.

Both Gerson and Mendez, along with Tony Avella of Queens, chairperson of the Zoning Subcommittee, promised to sponsor a Follow-up Corrective Action (FUCA) that would protect the east side of Bowery from high-rise hotel development by extending the Little Italy Special District from the west side to the east side of the avenue.

“The measure brings contextual zoning to the neighborhood, but it’s not perfect,” Mendez said at the Nov. 12 hearing in the packed City Council Chamber at City Hall. “It doesn’t have anti-harassment and anti-demolition provisions and the area needs more affordable housing than the proposal now calls for,” she said.

“There are many positive aspects of the plan but we want to protect tenants with an anti-harassment provision,” Gerson said. “This is an area where developers reap the greatest profits and they can afford between 25 and 30 percent affordable housing if not more.”

Edith Hsu Chen, Manhattan director of the Department of City Planning, said the voluntary inclusionary zoning incentives that the department included in the plan would likely result in 20 percent of new units created in the district being permanent affordable housing. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development had to balance the need to give incentives for affordable housing so that developers would choose to build it, Chen said.

Some areas in the city had inclusionary zoning that resulted in 30 percent of new housing construction being affordable, but those areas had available city-owned land that developers acquired at nominal cost compared to the privately owned land in the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning area, Chin explained.

Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, said AAFE joined the coalition that supported the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning as “a major step in stemming the rampant gentrification and out-of-context luxury development in our mixed-use neighborhood.”

Kui denounced the accusations of racism by some Chinatown groups, which, he said, “throw a smokescreen over the real issue of neighborhood preservation.” The AAFE director said Chinatown should have its own dedicated zoning and planning analysis rather than having a blanket extension of the East Village/Lower East Side plan.

“Chinatown is different from the Lower East Side,” Kui said, “in that Chinatown possesses a manufacturing base, a higher density of residents in old tenement housing and a wider prevalence of small businesses.”

Gerson and Mendez also committed their support for a comprehensive look at the needs of Chinatown for a new rezoning proposal.

But Malcolm Lam, of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, repeated the racism charge. He said the failure of the rezoning plan’s environmental review to consider race and its relation to income and family size was grossly negligent. The proposed zoning will have an impact on Chinatown by increasing property values, he pointed out.

“Developers are waiting to come into the neighborhood because they know property values will go up as soon as this zoning is passed,” Lam said.

Despite the fact that the rezoning was expected to be approved today, Gerson said things aren’t set in stone.

“We have ample opportunity to follow up with improvements,” he said.