Volume 20, Number 52 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | MAY 9 - 15, 2008

C.B. 3 feels Chinatown pressure on zoning plan

By HEATHER MURRAY

Although Community Board 3 Chairperson David McWater has said the board won’t ask the Department of Planning to expand a 114-block East Village/Lower East Side rezoning plan to include the Bowery and Chinatown, a coalition determined to expand the rezoning’s area is working to mobilize the community.

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side was formed earlier this year to promote rezoning all of Community Board 3. The umbrella organization includes the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Two Bridges Neighborhood Housing Council, the Sixth Street Community Center, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Chinese Restaurant Alliance and the Community Coalition Against the Business Improvement District.

The original rezoning study that jumpstarted the plan was brought to the community board in 2005 by the East Village Community Coalition. The coalition was formed in 2004 to fight Gregg Singer’s high-rise dormitory plan on the site of the old P.S. 64 on E. Ninth St.

C.B. 3 decided to work with City Planning rather than draft a plan on its own, since a city-backed plan takes several years less to complete and is much more likely to gain final approval from the City Council and mayor.

The proposed rezoning area is generally bounded by E. 13th St. to the north, Avenue D to the east, Grand and Delancey Sts. to the south and Third Ave. and the Bowery to the west.

Josefina Rosa volunteers with National Mobilization Against Sweatshops and will be 83 next month. She moved to the Lower East Side from Puerto Rico when she was 19 or 20 and remembers when she paid only $35 in rent for an apartment on Cherry St. near the South Street Seaport. She lives on Essex St. now.

“Some of my neighbors, working-class people, they pay $2,000 in rent,” she said.

Rosa spoke through an interpreter at C.B. 3’s April 22 meeting — not because she can’t speak English, but because she’s more comfortable speaking in her native tongue — about the need for more local affordable housing. She came to the meeting, in part, she said, because of “all that N-MASS has done for me.” Rosa has asthma she believes stems from 9/11 and N-MASS arranged for her to get regular treatment at Bellevue Hospital.

Josephine Lee, an organizer with Chinese Staff and Workers Association, said gentrification is occurring “at a more rapid rate” as hotels and luxury condo buildings have come into Chinatown. She named 20 different hotel and condo projects she is aware of that are in the works in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. She highlighted an 18-story hotel planned at the corner of Hester St. and Bowery that she and others are opposing.

Lee is worried that if the areas surrounding Chinatown are rezoned, it would entice developers to buy up property on the Bowery and in Chinatown. She feels for this reason it’s the Chinatown developers who are pushing for the redevelopment plan, not the working class.

“The community board, too, has a role to represent the entire community, not to draw a circle around where the leaders live,” Lee said. “They also need to represent the community, instead of pushing the government’s racist agenda upon the people, instead of becoming the mouthpiece for the developers in this community.”

Hoon Kim of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops has been spreading the word about the opposition to the rezoning. He and others in the coalition have gathered more than 5,000 petition signatures thus far.

Kim said the people he has talked to on the street “aren’t aware there is a rezoning going on.”

“Right now, what we want is to fight for the plan to be included,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can from talking to city councilmembers to City Hall.

“There are 60 days for review of the E.I.S. [environmental impact statement],” Kim continued. “Then, there’s still a lot of time before it’s voted on by the City Council. So we are mobilizing the community.”

At the April 22 meeting, Tony Tsai said Chinatown residents didn’t know about the plan because the “only thing they do is working, working, working. We’re just asking to include us in the plan,” he said.

Tsai added, “If we have to, we’ll mobilize all of the Lower East Side and all of Chinatown against this. … We will not be ignored.” Cheers erupted on the right side of the auditorium at I.S. 131 on Hester St., where at least 50 activists sat holding the same protest signs they carted to the March C.B. 3 meeting asking for “accountable rezoning.”

After David Tieu called the plan racist against Latinos and Asians and spoke out of turn from the audience, Chairperson McWater asked security to remove him. A guard went over to Tieu, but he remained seated.

Board member Harry Wieder asked why activists are voicing opposition to the plan so late in the game. (The rezoning plan task force was founded three years ago.) But Rob Hollander, a rezoning opponent, responded, “Why isn’t the Chinatown community aware of the rezoning? I believe there’s a problem of communication generally” and added that the funded organizations in Chinatown were told about the plan but not the smaller groups.

Susan Stetzer, the board’s district manager, said later that in addition to the board’s outreach to Chinatown that was funded with a $100,000 9/11 grant, the plan has been written about in Chinese newspapers and talked about on Chinese broadcasting radio.

Coalition members left en masse after the public session ended and unfortunately before McWater’s board report, in which he addressed the activists’ concerns.

“I’m deeply offended by people calling this a racist rezoning,” said McWater in his remarks to the board.

He said C.B. 3 has done outreach in the past and mentioned the $100,000 grant Stetzer secured. Despite that outreach, McWater said, “Nobody came from Chinatown” to oppose the plan until this year, only months before the City Council is set to vote on the plan. McWater noted that this month the board put Chinatown on the agenda of its 197 Zoning Task — the board’s task force that’s overseeing the rezoning plan — to start discussing the subject.

He then referred to a sheet the activists had handed out with recommendations to his board.

“They handed out a sheet earlier,” he said. “It’s too bad none of them are here to listen.”

McWater went through the coalition’s demands and on each point explained why they weren’t going to happen. He said mandatory inclusionary zoning of affordable housing in new projects in the rezoning area was something the board “tried very hard for,” but it was a deal breaker with the city.

The coalition asked for 100 percent low-income housing at several development sites, including the Essex St. parking lot, the Essex St. Market, Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, Cooper Square Renewal Area and Pathmark supermarket site. McWater explained why each of the areas cited was a no-go and added that Pathmark is privately owned.

On their sheet, the Chinatown activists asked that Chrystie St. not be upzoned. McWater replied that it’s not being upzoned, explaining, “There will be taller buildings there, but still shorter than allowed now.”

McWater has suggested looking at rezoning the rest of the district not included in the plan separately, rather than trying to incorporate these areas into the current plan.

He said the city has already spent $2.5 million on the plan and is only a couple of weeks away from releasing an E.I.S.

“We’re not going to start over,” McWater stated. “I can’t throw out rezoning for 100,000 residents.”

Board member Herman Hewitt asked McWater whether the board could “reinvestigate rezoning Chinatown.”

The board chairperson replied that after that night’s performance, the board would not consider rezoning Chinatown as long as he is chairperson of the 197 Task Force.

Stetzer said the task force just heard a presentation from its planning fellow at its last meeting and had discussed the possibility of a separate 197-c rezoning plan for Chinatown.

“The rezoning committee is interested in looking at rezoning all over the district,” Stetzer said. She added, “What we’re looking at now, the rezoning, is the result of an awful lot of work.” The task force is made up of both board members and community members.

A town hall meeting on the rezoning plan is scheduled for Mon., May 12, at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 20, at 166 Essex St.

 





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