Council backs rezoning with letter by deputy mayor

By Albert Amateau

The City Council last week unanimously approved the 111-block rezoning of the East Village/Lower East Side after the Bloomberg administration made a commitment to Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Alan Gerson about anti-harassment provisions, affordable housing opportunities and protection for Chinatown and the Bowery corridor.

In a Nov. 19 letter from Robert Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development, the administration also promised to consider modifications to the rezoning that were proposed by the Lower East Side Business Improvement District to allow craft manufacturing and increased commercial density south of Houston St.

Chinatown activists had testified over the past several months that downzoning in the East Village and Lower East Side would encourage landlords in the area excluded from the rezoning to harass and evict low-income tenants in anticipation of rising land values.

Indeed, Josephine Lee, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, said last week that Chinatown displacement had already occurred on Thurs., Nov. 14, when 81 Bowery, at Hester St., was vacated and 30 tenants were removed. Lee, whose group is a fierce opponent of the rezoning, said the timing of the closing of the building, where residents had lived for 20 years, was too close to the rezoning to be coincidental.

But a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings said the building was vacated strictly for safety reasons after successive Fire Department inspections found that sheetrock walls were blocking the sprinkler system.

The administration’s commitment to countering potential displacement pressure calls for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development to target and monitor enforcement of the existing Local Law 7 anti-harassment provisions in the rezoned East Village/Lower East Side and the excluded Chinatown and Bowery areas.

H.P.D. will also add anti-harassment services, like counseling, translation and other assistance, to existing programs administered by Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) and other groups.

In addition, the department will allocate $100,000 via a request for proposals, or R.F.P., for anti-harassment and anti-eviction legal services. And at the end of a year, H.P.D. will evaluate the programs and report to Gerson and Mendez and local community groups.

In addition to the inclusionary zoning in the rezoning, which is expected to result in 456 units of affordable housing, H.P.D. will provide 105 affordable housing units in the rezoned area at three locations: the Lower Eastside Girls Club site on Avenue D, the E. Ninth St. Common Ground site and the E. 11th St. Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association site.

And to preserve existing affordable housing in the area, H.P.D. will provide loans and tax abatements for 231 apartments in Haven Plaza at E. 13th St. and Avenue C.

H.P.D. will also work with Gerson and the owners of the Grand St. Guild Houses on Rivington and Pitt Sts. to provide funding to maintain several hundred affordable units. The low-rent units are at risk because Grand St. Guild is in the process of leaving its federal Housing and Urban Development program.

According to the administration’s commitment letter, the Land’s End I and Land’s End II buildings and residential projects at 10 Stanton and 210 Stanton Sts. have federal HUD contracts that will expire in 2010, 2013 and 2019. The letter commits H.P.D. to working with the community to find funding to keep rents in those buildings affordable.

The letter also promises to work with Mendez and Gerson to lobby the federally funded Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to divide its remaining housing funds — estimated at $10 million — between the Chinatown Tenement Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Preservation (TARP) program and possible new construction of senior housing.

Regarding Chinatown, the Department of City Planning will work with the Chinatown Working Group — composed of representatives of Community Boards 1,2 and 3 and other community organizations — to identify priorities and develop a neighborhood plan, according to the letter.

City Planning will provide technical assistance to the Chinatown Working Group, review the group’s recommendations and initiate the next step in developing a detailed zoning proposal. The letter also commits City Planning to support Gerson’s request that the Working Group examine the area south of Delancey St. between Chrystie and Allen Sts., plus the Bowery corridor south of Canal St.

The city also promises to support Gerson’s request to the L.M.D.C. to allocate $150,000 for an urban planner to help the Working Group, which would have a voice in the planner’s selection and scope of work.

The city also promises to continue helping CREATE, a Chinatown arts organization, to establish a new performing arts center in Chinatown at the earliest possible date.

As for the Bowery, City Planning agrees to meet with Gerson, Mendez, Community Boards 2 and 3 and local representatives to discuss a community proposal to rezone the Bowery between Canal and E. Fifth St. and Third Ave. between E. Fifth and E. 13th Sts.

The city’s letter notes that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has surveyed the Lower East Side from E. Houston on the north, the East River on the east and south and Bowery on the west. The L.P.C. will meet with Gerson to evaluate potential landmarks that Gerson has identified.

But Anna Sawaryn, an East Village resident and member of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, or BAN, said that while the low-rise scale of the Bowery’s west side is protected by the Little Italy Special District and the Noho Special District, the famed thoroughfare’s east side is disappearing as 15- and 23-story towers are built.

“By the time the protections are in place, the Bowery will be gone,” Sawaryn said.

The administration letter notes that the city Department of Transportation and the Department of Parks are working to improve Pike and Allen Sts., including the malls down the middle of the two streets. The two agencies will consult with Gerson and the community on the project, the letter promises. Existing capital funding should be sufficient to complete just under half the malls, according to the letter.