Planning O.K.’s rezoning and antis cry ‘Dump Mike!’

By Albert Amateau

The City Planning Commission on Tuesday morning unanimously approved the rezoning of 111 blocks of the East Village and Lower East Side.

Amanda Burden, the commission’s chairperson, said at the Oct. 7 meeting that the new zoning was “a balanced plan that would protect the area’s low-rise character by establishing height limits for the first time while creating opportunities for new and affordable housing where appropriate.”

Burden noted the more than three years of collaboration with Community Board 3, neighborhood groups and elected officials that resulted in the plan that replaces the existing, 47-year-old zoning. The old zoning allowed very tall construction that threatened the neighborhood’s character and tenement-scale streetscape, Burden said.

“Important modifications were made [to the plan] before and during the land-use review process,” she said, citing additional affordable housing options on Chrystie St. and “the wide avenues above East Houston St.”

Burden acknowledged the help of Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Rosie Mendez and thanked Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality and a former City Planning Commission member. AAFE, along with Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association and the Lower East Side Coalition for Accountable Rezoning, have supported the new zoning.

However, a Chinatown community group and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund have opposed the new plan, which excludes most of Chinatown, on the grounds that the zoning would steer high-rise developers to Chinatown and displace low-income residents and local merchants there.

The new East Village/Lower East Side zoning district extends between the east side of Third Ave. and Bowery to the west side of Avenue D and between E. 13th St. on the north to Grand and Delancey Sts. on the south.

Burden and Angela Battaglia, a mayoral appointee to the Planning Commission, noted that the Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit has established a working group to look into Chinatown land-use concerns with a view to a later Chinatown rezoning.

Nevertheless, a few hours after the City Planning Commission vote, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, AALDEF and other groups rallied on the steps of City Hall, repeating previous charges that the new zoning was “racist,” and demanding that the City Council throw it out after a final review in the next several weeks.

Chanting “Dump Bloomberg,” about 80 demonstrators denounced the administration’s other previous and planned rezonings as racist measures that threaten working families and communities of color.

Speakers at the rally derided Bloomberg’s efforts to overturn term limits and run for a third term as mayor next year. Jeff Mansfield, a minister at Judson Memorial Church, said the administration’s rezoning measures benefit the rich and corporate interests.

“Even with the economic crisis, we’re here to tell Bloomberg to resign now, much less run for a third term,” Mansfield said.

Carmela Huang, a coalition member, said the Planning Commission vote was expected and she didn’t have much confidence in the City Council overturning the measure. Huang and Stan Mark, an attorney with AALDEF, said opponents were “definitely thinking about a lawsuit.”