Tuesday, November 27, 2007

CB9 Responds to 125th Street Rezoning Proposal

CB9 Responds to 125th Street Rezoning Proposal
By Betsy Morais

After a Department of City Planning presentation on plans to rezone 125th Street, Community Board 9 responded with its own recommendations for land use Monday evening.

The meeting was originally scheduled to be a public hearing and committee vote on City Planning’s 125th Street proposal, as mandated by the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. CB9 held an information session instead because board members sought more time to scrutinize the commission’s plan. Community Boards 10 and 11, also involved in the rezoning, have already devoted much attention to the issue.

“125th Street is going to be a larger mess tomorrow than it is today. City Planning has got to realize that planning is about more than rezoning,” CB9 member Walter South said.

The meeting began with a Power-Point presentation by City Planning representative Edwin Marshall that outlined the agency’s plan, focusing particularly on how it would impact the CB9 area. The proposal, which began public review in October, is part of the Bloomberg administration’s citywide economic-development project. According to City Planning, it seeks to “sustain the ongoing revitalization of 125th Street as a unique Manhattan Main Street, enhance its regional business-district character, and reinforce the street’s premier arts, culture, and entertainment-destination identity.”

The plan requires buildings to have active ground-floor retail space to encourage local commerce and calls for the establishment of a Special Zoning District which would allow City Planning to tailor building form, control density, and regulate usage.

But the board expressed concern about the coverage area of the plan, which only goes as far west as Broadway.

CB9 member Savona Bailey McClain responded to the City Planning presentation with a set of recommendations, voicing the board’s desire to extend rezoning all the way to the Hudson River and across 12th Avenue. Elements of the city’s rezoning design “stifle development in our community,” McClain explained.

The recommendations also called for inclusion of West Harlem’s New Amsterdam District, which was omitted from the city’s rezoning outline. This is crucial, McClain explained, “so Columbia will not be the only economic engine. We want some independence.”

Marshall explained that the city had not put the New Amsterdam District in the plan because the commission was waiting for CB9 to complete its 197-a rezoning proposal. But he added, “We all agree—it needs to be looked at.”

McClain also addressed the issue of affordable housing—the board expressed dissatisfaction with the city’s guideline that 20 percent of new housing should be affordable—and encouraged the cultivation of economic and artistic growth in West Harlem.

Yet in the wake of Monday’s City Planning Commission vote on both CB9’s and Columbia’s Manhattanville rezoning plans, board members seemed more in the mood to question the CPC than to analyze the details of their recommendations.

After the 125th Street discussion came to a close, CB9 Second Vice-Chair Patricia Jones and planning advisor Ron Schiffman reported on their afternoon at the CPC. “There was a victory today, but it was buried in a lack of appreciation and a lack of concern for the people in this community,” Schiffman said.

Of the Columbia plan, he added, “It’s almost like asking the fox to design the chicken coops.”
Betsy Morais can be reached at news@columbiaspectator.com.

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