A group of Inwood residents and business owners went to court Monday to stop the city’s plan to rezone the neighborhood.
The grassroots coalition Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale and 14 additional plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Civil Court contending that the city failed to properly assess the impact of the 59-block rezoning on the community.
Philip Simpson, an attorney who is one of the plaintiffs, said the city ignored calls to study potential residential displacement of the approximately 12,000 preferential rent households, the impact on small-business rents and real estate speculation caused by the new zoning rules.
"The goal of the lawsuit is to stop the rezoning, and tell the city they have to take a hard look at the community," he said at a news conference Monday morning.
In August, the City Council and mayor approved the long-gestating rezoning proposal, despite widespread outcry from resident groups, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Rep. Adriano Espaillat. The new zoning rules would allow for larger, more modern residential buildings, as well as give developers the chance to update the mostly industrial area east of 10th Avenue with street improvements, more green space and other improvements.
Although the zoning proposal does commit to affordable housing options within new developments, the lawsuit argues that once new residents move in, they will raise the minimum requirements for those housing units above the current median Inwood annual income, which is around $47,000.
Espaillat, a supporter of the lawsuit, added that there are already reports of landlords in the neighborhood using tactics to force rent stabilized tenants out.
"The people are vulnerable," Espaillat said. "Many of them are seniors who don’t know they have preferential rent."
The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which worked out the rezoning, and the city’s law department didn’t return messages for comment on the lawsuit. EDC has stated that it would offer free legal help to anyone facing tenant harassment.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been a staunch supporter of the rezoning, said the many opportunities community members had to weigh their concerns helped shape aspects of the proposal, such as the removal of the "Commercial U" corridor.
"I feel we as a city have been listening to the members of the community," Rodriguez said.