Thursday, April 05, 2007

Borough President Announces 197-c Plan - Proposal Would Limit Big Development in West Harlem, Exclude CU Expansion Space

Borough President Announces 197-c Plan
Proposal Would Limit Big Development in West Harlem, Exclude CU Expansion Space
By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 4/5/07 Section: News

West Harlem, once a major manufacturing center and now home to small community with dwindling affordable housing, has been presented with yet another redevelopment proposal.

On April 1, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer announced his proposed West Harlem Special District, a 197-c plan. The plan would rezone West Harlem in a way designed to halt the pernicious effects of gentrification and secondary displacement. The zoning proposal, which currently spans from 125th Street north to 145th Street and from the Hudson River to Convent Avenue, describes the enclosed acreage as a "preservation area" in which the landscape and character of the community would be held constant, while allowing for some new development.

Stringer's proposal overlaps the 17 acres of Columbia University's proposed Manhattanville expansion as well as Community Board 9's 197-a plan, which spans the CB9 district. While it overlaps these areas, it does not impose zoning changes on the Manhattanville expansion zone, nor does it cover the city blocks owned by City College. But the proposal does integrate CB9's 197-a proposal.

"We've had conversations with CB9 leadership about the proposal, and one of the goals of the borough president's rezoning is to create a vehicle for implementing many of the recommendations that are in the 197-a plan," said Anthony Borelli, director of land use, planning, and development for Stringer.

Among these goals is the promotion of contextual zoning-zoning that mirrors current building density and height limits-and zoning that would "stop grossly out-of-scale developments and discourage dorms and university uses in residential areas." According to the borough president's office, 50 percent of the sites within the preservation zone are "soft sites," meaning that they are built significantly below what their zoning allows for. While the new zoning proposal would limit the number of these sites to prevent large developments, it redirects the potential for development to other areas of West Harlem where larger constructions would better conform to the current built environment.

Because West Harlem is not uniformly built, the zoning proposal divides the area into four subdistricts, each differently zoned to reflect the neighborhoods within them.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the plan, particularly for West Harlem residents, is the proposal's inclusionary housing plan. In most development plans, such as for the rezoning of 125th Street, inclusionary housing involves developers setting aside 20 percent of a housing development for affordable housing in exchange for the ability to build to maximum density and height limits. Because Stringer's proposal is a special district, Community Board 9 members, in conjunction with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, will establish the affordability range, meaning that affordability standards could be set according to median incomes in the district rather than the city at large.

In developing the proposal, officials from Stringer's office met repeatedly with CB9 officials, but the board has yet to fully endorse the plan.

"We consider the plan to be too modest," CB9 Chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc said. "We want the plan to be extended to cover the whole district minus the Columbia expansion area." According to Reyes-Montblanc, Stringer's proposal ought to line up entirely with the CB9's 197-a plan, extending up to 155th Street and down to 110th Street.

CB9 member Walter South agreed, calling the plan "too narrow." South believes that Columbia's expansion plan ought to be a part of Stringer's zoning proposal. "There's no reason that Columbia's expansion area should be excluded from this," he said. He agreed with Reyes-Montblanc that the plan should extend south of 125th Street, saying, "the area between 110th and 125th is also vulnerable to overbuilding." He also criticized the plan's failure to address public transportation needs in the area.

Some believe that the zoning proposal inappropriately assumes that Columbia's expansion will go forward as planned.

Ruth Eisenberg of the Coalition to Preserve Community said that Stringer's proposal was "treating Columbia's plan as an inevitability," and said that the timing of the plan coupled with its exclusion of the expansion zone made her suspicious of the borough president's motives.

"If he did a [197]c for the entire community board, it would, I think, show how much better a [197]c you could have than the one Columbia is proposing," she said, "It would really point out the shortcomings of the Columbia 197-c, which I think is part of the reason he doesn't want to do it."

"It's throwing a bone to the community. You have all this displacement coming from the Columbia Manhattanville development, and you won't require them to conform to the 197-a, but you'll do something in the rest of the district to compensate," she added.

No comments: