Friday, April 20, 2007

Proposed 125th Street Zoning Reenvisioned - Boards Are Cautiously Optimistic, but Still Raise Concerns About Increased Traffic and Affordable Housing

Proposed 125th Street Zoning Reenvisioned
Boards Are Cautiously Optimistic, but Still Raise Concerns About Increased Traffic and Affordable Housing
By Melissa Repko
Issue date: 4/16/07 Section: News

Local community boards have expressed cautious optimism about plans for a proposed rezoning of 125th Street which aim to commercialize and revitalize the area.If passed, the zoning plan would create a busier corridor with taller buildings and would aim to increase foot traffic.

Ground floor space would be made available to retailers and closed off to banks, hotels, and residences. The plan would affect the 24 square blocks between 124th and 126th, running from Broadway east to Second Avenue. The plan has already been reviewed by all three affected community boards, namely 9, 10, and 11.

CB9 chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc has emphasized that the rezoning plans would have a minimal effect on the district. Unlike CB10 and CB11, CB9 decided not to submit a statement to the Department of City Planning. "In CB9 we really aren't affected at this moment," Reyes-Montblanc said. "The plan has been going on for three years. There have been numerous meetings, and all the boards have participated ... This isn't anything that just popped up.

"Reyes-Montblanc noted that he does not expect the proposed rezoning to drastically impact the 197-A plan, a framework for development in West Harlem passed by CB9.

But Reyes-Montblanc did express concern that the rezoning could cause an increase in traffic. "The transportation issue is a major problem because as central Harlem becomes a hub of commerce, it is going to put a strain on Harlem and congest the street," he said.

CB11 chair Robert Rodriguez supports the rezoning but also anticipates transportation problems arising. "We certainly expect that traffic is going to be an issue as it is with any vibrant corridor, much like in Times Square or 42nd street, but we certainly look forward to being ... a strong, local economy," he said.

The plan would eliminate a requirement currently in place in certain parts of the district that one parking space exist for every 1000 square feet of commercial space. The CB11 statement submitted to City Planning supported the elimination of the commercial parking requirement and urged increased public transportation use, hoping to decrease vehicle traffic and emissions. According to the board's comment, pollutants are particularly relevant to the district since East Harlem "has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country."

"There are no solutions to the transportation issue," Reyes-Montblanc said, although he pledges to work with CB11 to minimize the plan's negative effects. "125th can't be made wider. That's like trying to put a size 12 foot in a size 6 shoe. There's going to have to be planning on how that will happen.

"Under the new rezoning, the area would aim to attract larger stores and other retailers that would draw both tourists and local residents, but could possibly undermine the more historic or independent businesses which could be driven out by larger scale competitors.

"Be it for local small businesses, local arts and cultural groups, low- to moderate-income residents seeking housing or some combination thereof, this community must have some defined benefit from this effort," the CB10 comments to City Planning state. "Otherwise, we fear that the current plan will leave our main street more unaffordable, more out of context, and for the sole ultimate benefit of outside concerns than as it currently exists."

CB9 and CB11 echoed the sentiments. Rodriguez said that he will include local businesses in the transformation process to "strike the balance" and prevent "Disneyfication" of the area.

Reyes-Montblanc also said he would consider the thoughts of local entrepreneurs. "We intend to work with the merchants in our district so that they are in a position to survive," he said.

In addition to seeking a blend of commercialization and local businesses, the community boards hope to protect affordable housing. "We believe it is important to utilize all mechanisms at our disposal to develop affordable housing and provide our community's struggling residents an opportunity to stay here for generations to come," CB11 says in its statement to City Planning.

In CB11's statement, the board strongly objected to the fact that only 530 units out of 2,478 new dwelling units would be designated as affordable, saying that it "will accelerate unaffordability and promote drastic demographic change which will further loosen Central Harlem from its traditional moorings."

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