Volume 21, Number 1 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | May 16 - 22, 2008
Downtown Express photo by Robert Kreizel
Protesters at Community Board 3’s town hall meeting on the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning on Monday night angrily reacted to the Powerpoint presentation on the proposal, which doesn’t include Chinatown.
Chinatown group blasts City’s East Side plans
By HEATHER MURRAY
Arthur Huh, a City Department of Planning district liaison, came to Community Board 3’s town hall meeting on the 197c East Village/Lower East Side Rezoning Plan on Monday prepared to showcase the plan’s highlights. The city had just certified the uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, for the rezoning plan the previous Monday. C.B. 3 has 60 days from certification for final comments on the rezoning, which spans 111 blocks. If, over the next several months, the plan wins City Council approval, it will go into effect.
But shortly after Huh stepped up to the microphone, a man in the audience interrupted him to ask for a Chinese translation. Someone else then asked for a Spanish translation. C.B. 3 Chairperson David McWater explained that the community board doesn’t have money to pay for translators. At that point, more than 100 audience members started chanting, “Chinatown — not for sale; Lower East Side — not for sale.” Many of the protesters had shown up at previous meetings this year, voicing concerns that Chinatown and the Bowery aren’t included in the rezoning plan.
On Monday night, these protesters from the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side were joined by activists from Harlem and Brooklyn. They came to the meeting a half hour early to decry what they charge is “Bloomberg’s racist rezoning plan.”
Protesters chanted for more than half an hour. Several minutes after two people volunteered to translate Huh’s presentation, most of the protesters left the meeting en masse escorted by police, who had tried to keep things calm during the meeting.
The rezoning plan caps building heights at eight stories in most areas and at 12 for Houston, Delancey and Chrystie Sts. and Avenue D. Those streets are upzoned to allow for voluntary inclusionary zoning, or I.Z., which would require that 20 percent of a building’s units be affordable in order for the developer to qualify for the height bonus.
McWater called the building height cap “the most important part of the plan.” There are no height restrictions in the East Village and Lower East Side under the current zoning.
The plan is bounded generally by E. 13th St. to the north, Avenue D to the east, Grand and Delancey Sts. to the south and 100 feet east of Third Ave. and Bowery to the west.
Edith Hsu-Chen, a deputy planner from City Planning, said the city projects 1,383 housing units to be built in the rezoned East Village/Lower East Side area in coming years. Roughly 343 of these units would be affordable, she said.
A Department of Housing Preservation and Development representative said a family of four earning $45,000 a year would pay about $1,100 a month rent and one earning $30,000 around $750 a month for a three-bedroom affordable unit.
Many speakers on Monday night asked for the 20 percent requirement for the inclusionary zoning bonus to be raised to 30 percent or more. This concern is not new. C.B. 3 wrote in a 2007 letter on the rezoning to the City Planning that the board was “greatly troubled by the affordable housing data in the draft scoping document.”
Steve Herrick of the Cooper Square Committee, a community-based group that develops and operates affordable housing, called the plan “preferable to the current zoning. It’s a step in the right direction, but still not enough.” Herrick asked the city to make 30 percent of units in the inclusionary zoning-eligible developments affordable, to lower height limits on I.Z. areas from 125 feet to 100 feet and to lower the increased floor area ratio for those zones.
Mary Spink, director of the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association, said she supported C.B. 3’s 11-point response to the rezoning.
C.B. 3 came out with the 11-point plan in December 2006, suggesting ways to improve upon the city’s plan. Included in the board’s positions are provisions against harassment, displacement and demolition, establishing a legal service fund to enforce such provisions, and increasing permanent affordable housing to 30 percent for new developments.
Spink also suggested the city revisit the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, which has sat vacant for more than 40 years. McWater has said the vacant Seward Park sites will be among the board’s next zoning priorities.
Spink spoke to those in the audience who came to oppose the rezoning plan. She said decades ago the community fought over passing a cross-subsidy plan that affected community garden sites and vacant lots. That plan was eventually approved and she said there are “close to 40 buildings now in the area for low and moderate means. It wasn’t perfect, but better than what we had. This plan [the current rezoning] is better than what we have.”
But a representative of Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, or BAN, warned against what could happen to periphery areas like the Bowery. He suggested the city could end up with what he called a “Disneyland version of Chinatown,” where no Chinese inhabited the area.
McWater wrapped up the session by addressing protesters’ concerns. He said Chinatown wasn’t included in the plan because “first of all, there wasn’t building pressure in Chinatown, except for the Bowery.”
The community board originally included the Bowery in its community-initiated rezoning plan; but then the city took over the lead on the rezoning and dropped the Bowery from the plan. C.B. 3 spent about a year “begging the city” to include the Bowery, McWater noted. The board is now working on a Bowery rezoning on its own and has been relying on the help of its planning fellow, who is supplied to the board by the borough president. The planning fellow has collected all the necessary data. McWater told Downtown Express C.B. 3 now needs to somehow find between $60,000 and $70,000 to do an environmental impact statement for a Bowery rezoning.
The board chairperson spoke of the area north of Houston St. as “under attack” when the rezoning plan was conceived more than three years ago.
McWater said Chinatown would not have been easy to incorporate into the current plan, since the area includes an empire zone and sits in three community boards.
McWater ended the meeting with a call to “put an end to 40-something years of unfettered development.” The East Village and Lower East Side’s last rezoning took place in 1961.
The C.B. 3 197-plan Task Force will meet to discuss the rezoning plan on Wed., May 21, at 6:30 p.m. at New York University, Black Box, 113 Second Ave., between Sixth and Seventh Sts.