Friday, October 19, 2007

Sprayregen's Rezoning Plan Debated

Sprayregen's Rezoning Plan Debated
By Melissa Repko

As Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion plan continues to work its way through the public review process, a rezoning plan proposed by Tuck-It-Away Storage owner Nick Sprayregen, one of Columbia’s most vocal critics, is also being reviewed by the city. In the wake of Community Board 9’s vote to reject the plan last month, debate over whether Sprayregen’s proposal is a viable alternative to Columbia’s has been influenced by questions over the property owner’s credibility and intentions.

The 197-c set forth by Sprayregen, the largest private property owner within Columbia’s proposed expansion zone, would change the zoning on his properties, which are currently designated for manufacturing, to allow taller buildings and residential and commercial uses. It is making its way through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and is currently being considered by Borough President Scott Stringer.

After much debate over the resolution's wording, CB9 rejected the proposal in a close and contentious vote. The resolution set forth conditions that the plan would need to meet for board approval, including making at least 50 percent of residential units affordable housing and defining affordable housing within CB9’s average mean income. Some wanted to approve the proposal with a “yes if” decision while others wanted to reject it unless conditions were met with a “no unless” decision.

The motion to change the wording to the former failed. The vote on the actual resolution got 16 against, 12 in favor, and 3 abstentions.

Sprayregen said he was “extremely disappointed” by CB9’s decision, but did not feel that it was a completely negative outcome. “It wasn’t an outright rejection,” he said. “I think that many of the people who voted against got confused with what I was proposing, and that is was very consistent with the guidelines 197-a.” The 197-a is a rubric passed by CB9 to guide development in West Harlem.

CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc agreed with Sprayregen that members rejected the proposal because they felt it was inconsistent with the board’s 197-a plan, especially regarding the availability of affordable housing.

“I thought that the plan had some merit,” Reyes-Montblanc said, adding that very close votes are rare for the board. “It did need some adjustment and could have been made a little better.”
Board member Michael Palma, who was in favor of the proposal, said that he believes it failed because it was too vague. “There was not enough detail to the project,” he said.Sprayregen also blamed the vote’s outcome on his inability to show how his proposal was “in the spirit of 197-a.”
“To some degree, I didn’t do a good enough job communicating what exactly we desired to do and I believe there is a certain segment that would vote down any kind of development,” Sprayregen said. “Despite that, I still remain hopeful that the borough president understands that it is in the interest of the community.”

But some of the dissent may have come out of doubts over Sprayregen’s credibility and allegations that he cares more about the money in his pocket than the well-being of the neighborhood. Much of the criticism can be traced to former deputy mayor Bill Lynch, whose firm, Bill Lynch Associates, was hired by Columbia in April 2006 to lobby for its expansion plans. The firm, which organized a pro-expansion group called the Coalition for the Future of Manhattanville, caused controversy when some of the group’s members passed out fliers calling Sprayregen an outsider and saying that he might build luxury housing on his Manhattanville properties.

Sprayregen said that he is in fact sincere about creating affordable housing, though he has not made firm commitments on what proportion of units would be affordable. He said that he has reached out to the state to discuss it, but has not heard back. He denied that he had any intention to build luxury condos, saying instead that he hopes to help solve Manhattanville’s housing crunch.

“It’s hard to seriously talk to the state when we don’t get any responses and it is premature to be talking about types of affordable housing when the area has to be rezoned,” Sprayregen said. “I’m just a small businessman and along with running my business and raising my four kids, I have this David and Goliath fight against Columbia that is taking up a lot of my time.”

Shortly following CB9’s vote, Coalition to Preserve Community leader Tom DeMott expressed the concern that “this [the proposal] is going in the pile they [city planning officials] will be less likely to consider,” because of its wording and because of the CB9 vote’s outcome.

Reyes-Montblanc disagreed that the proposal will lose footing. “It still has to go through the borough president and city planning so he [Sprayregen] still has a good chance of seeing it succeed,” he said. “See what happened to Columbia—we voted it down and the borough president voted it up.”

But, Reyes-Montblanc added, “it’s not a vote against Nick. We love Nick, but we love our 197-a more.”

As the proposal is under Stringer’s consideration, Sprayregen said that he has been disappointed that he has not been able to discuss the proposal with Stringer and wonders if it may be an indication of a negative review.

“My attorney and I had an appointment at their request two weeks ago, and the day after the narrow vote of the community board against my plan, they called up and cancelled and we haven’t heard from them since,” Sprayregen said, adding that it was just the most recent example of local politicians’ “total abdication of ethical leadership.”

A statement from Stringer’s spokesperson stated, “the Tuck-It-Away proposal is currently under review by Borough President Stringer as part of the City’s ULURP process. He will issue his recommendation on it at the appropriate time during his 30 day review period.”

Melissa Repko can be reached at

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