Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stringer Unveils Plan for Special Zoning District in West Harlem to Address Impacts of Columbia Expansion

"We in Manhattan have always set the standard for what can be imagined. And, day after day, we set new standards for what can be achieved. I firmly believe the office of the Manhattan Borough President will become a nexus of new, bold ideas that will move all of us forward together." - Scott M. Stringer

Stringer Unveils Plan for Special Zoning
District in West Harlem to Address Impacts
of Columbia Expansion

New Proposal Seeks to Ensure West Harlem Community is
Preserved and Protected as Plans for Expansion Move Forward

(April 1, 2007) New York, NY – Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer today made public a comprehensive rezoning proposal for much of West Harlem that would preserve the neighborhood and ensure its stability as plans for Columbia University’s massive expansion move forward.

To date, discussion of Columbia’s expansion has centered on the 17-acre area of West Harlem where the University wishes to expand. Stringer’s proposal brought to light the needs of the surrounding West Harlem community certain to be impacted by the influx of university development. Stringer said the expansion would cause the displacement of local residents and businesses, a surge in traffic, and other significant infringements upon West Harlem’s existing social and physical character. He said that a plan was needed to address those concerns.

“I support Columbia’s desire to grow to meet its 21st century educational and research goals,” Borough President Stringer said. “However, in the past, projects of this magnitude have swept away entire neighborhoods and we must use the powers of zoning to ensure the expansion will not trample this vibrant community. I am concerned about how the expansion will affect the residents and businesses in the expansion area, but it is not enough to focus only on the footprint of the development. If we are to adequately plan for Columbia’s expansion, we need long-range planning that accurately assesses and addresses its far-reaching impact. And that impact is certain to reach far beyond the 17-acre expansion zone.”

Stringer’s plan calls for the City to create a West Harlem Special District, from 125th Street to 145th Street, west of Convent Avenue. The area surrounding the Columbia expansion footprint would become a preservation area, with special zoning rules to encourage the long term preservation and stabilization of the West Harlem community.

Specifically, plans for the West Harlem Special District would include:
Contextual Zoning, with density and height limits, to preserve the physical character of the neighborhoods and quell displacement pressures.

Community Facility reforms, which would stop grossly out-of-scale developments and discourage dorms and university uses in residential areas.
Inclusionary Housing in certain areas, to channel new development toward the creation of housing that is affordable to West Harlem residents.

Density bonuses for “business incubators,” to provide incentives for developers to provide affordably priced retail or commercial space to local businesses.

Anti-Harassment Provisions and Demolition Restrictions, which would penalize property owners who harass their tenants, and discourage the demolition of occupied sound housing.

Special Off-street Parking Regulations, to ensure that parking in the area serves the needs of residents and encourages transit-based development instead of causing traffic congestion and pollution.

Many of these provisions were suggested by Community Board 9 in their comprehensive 197-a plan for West Harlem. The proposed Special District would provide the vehicle for turning these community-based recommendations into law.

“We need a rezoning that doesn’t just address Columbia’s needs, but instead plans comprehensively for the entire West Harlem community,” Stringer said. “A West Harlem Special District will give this community the zoning protections it needs to coexist with, rather than be dominated by, Columbia University.”

Stringer also pointed out that there is precedent in other parts of New York City for utilizing this zoning approach. He pointed to the Hudson Yards Special District, the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning, and the Clinton Special District, as areas where the City recognized the impact of major new developments and crafted special zoning rules to protect nearby areas. He also noted that West Harlem’s zoning has not been updated since 1961, while Downtown Manhattan neighborhoods have been rezoned in recent years.

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For a copy of the West Harlem Special District proposal