Thursday, December 06, 2007

Boards Differ on 125th Street Rezoning

Boards Differ on 125th Street Rezoning
By Betsy Morais

While Community Board 9 voted in favor of the city's vision for the 125th rezoning, Community Board 10 voted against it unanimously Wednesday evening. Both boards proposed modifications to the plan in their resolutions.

In accordance with the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure—the public review process by which the rezoning of land is approved in New York—community boards 9, 10, and 11 responded to the City Planning Commission's proposal for the 125th Street corridor. The split does not reflect a profound divergence in views, but suggests that CB10 members, whose Central Harlem district would be more significantly impacted by rezoning, cast a more critical eye on the project than did West Harlem's CB9.

The CB10 resolution accused the city's of threatening to change the character and socioeconomic identity of the neighborhood with the proposal. Meanwhile, with a vote of 19 in favor, five opposed, and three abstentions, CB9 followed recommendations its ULURP committee set forth on Monday to approve the plan with modifications. The board also added an amendment concerning transportation and landmark preservation.

Echoing CB10's harsh scrutiny, CB9's decision-making process was filled with tense debate. Although the board's ULURP committee endorsed a vote for the plan with several changes, about a third of the board members present called for the board to reject it unless the city agrees to the proposed modifications. The dissenting CB9 members feared that a "yes" vote would mean a loss of leverage in negotiating revisions.

"I came in thinking I was going to vote 'yes" and now I'm solidly voting 'no,'" CB9's Norma Ramos said, as debate ensued. "It seems to me that the way this resolution is written, there is so much substance if.' This clearly is calling for a 'no,' unless and until these conditions are met."

ULURP committee member Savona Bailey-McClain defended her stance, explaining that the conditions the board called for were already present in the city's plan, despite the fact that they haven't been applied to CB9's district. McClain expressed optimism about the fate of board alterations, saying that they are being considered seriously by the CPC.

CB9's modifications to the city's plan address the way buildings are used and designed, the availability of affordable housing, the rezoning's area of coverage, and promotion of neighborhood culture.

The New Amsterdam Special District—extending from the south side of 126th Street to 130th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside and Covenant Avenues—is a priority of the board. CB9 requested that this areas be included in the city's project in order to ensure building height limitations and inclusionary housing.

In addition, CB9's resolution joins those of CB10 and CB11 in opposing the CPC's Arts and Entertainment Requirement, which would force new developments of at least 60,000 square feet to designate 5 percent of floor space to a cultural facility—including pool halls or bars.
Nervous about the implication of such businesses for the neighborhood, the board is seeking to change this stipulation into a local Business Requirement. The revision would allocate space for businesses based in the CB9, CB10, and CB11 districts, as well as those registered by minority owners.

According to McClain, the board's resolution does not mention extending the city's 125th Street project farther west to reach the Hudson River because Columbia already received zoning rights to the areas. But not all CB9 members were satisfied with the omission.

"City planning is giving them [Columbia] a free ride with this rezoning proposal," lamented CB9's Walter South. "I think it's time that these communities call City Planning to task."
CB9 member Vicky Gholson echoed South's concern, asking "What are we doing as a board about Broadway to the river?"

Further east, CB10 members presented their own extensive modifications to the CPC's plan in a resolution addressing inclusionary housing opportunities, environmental impact, local business and arts concerns, and myriad other issues.

CB10 declared that City Planning's Environmental Impact Statement, which assessed the potential effects of CPC's proposed rezoning on the area, underestimated the indirect residential and commercial displacement its plan could cause. Residents were offended that, after estimating 71 local business would be displaced, the city declared that there would be no significant detriment to regional character. These business are "mostly black," Harlem Tenants Council Director Nellie Bailey said.

Prior to Wednesday's hearing, CB10 conducted a community outreach survey in which over 300 people came out against the city's 125th Street vision and less than 10 responded favorably. Locals also submitted what Bailey called "very sweeping" comments about the CPC's proposal during the meeting, some of which were incorporated into the board's final resolution.

The results of CB11's vote could not be obtained by press time.

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