Angry local opposition jeered and escorted out by security. After a public review that included over 170 meetings with local residents, the Planning Commission voted to approve the Department of City Planning’s proposal to rezone the 125th Street corridor, which includes 124th and 126th Street.
Once a prestigious epicenter of African American culture, the 125th Street corridor has suffered from a lack of public and private investment since the 1960s. In recent years, however, renewed interest in the area has spurred development projects, including the 276,000-square-foot Harlem USA complex and the planned headquarters for Major League Baseball’s cable network.
Portions of the corridor are currently characterized by four- to five-story row houses with street walls at or near the street line. The existing zoning allows tower-in-the-park development that could interrupt the street wall, and taller building heights that could lead to out-of-character development.
Under the proposal, substantial portions of the east and west ends of the corridor would be rezoned C4-4D to encourage mixed-use development and maintain street wall continuity. The proposal also seeks to create a Special 125th Street District that would include a “Core Subdistrict,” zoned C4-7 on the north-side and C6-3 on the south-side, to encourage arts and entertainment uses. Local residents, however, have expressed their concern that the rezoning would force out many of the area’s residents and small businesses.
At the vote, Chair Amanda Burden said that the rezoning would enhance the area’s “historic role as an arts, entertainment and retail corridor.” The Commission modified the proposal to include, for the first time in Upper Manhattan, an inclusionary housing program and, for the first time in the City, an Arts Bonus that encourages developers to create “not-for-profit visual and performing arts space as well as rehearsal space.” Vice Chair Kenneth J. Knuckles noted that the Arts Bonus would “expand upon the Apollo Theater” and create “more cultural tourism and economic opportunities” for Harlem and its residents.
Commissioners Angela Cavaluzzi and Karen Phillips voted against the proposal because, in their view, it didn’t go far enough to adequately address concerns over neighborhood character and affordable housing.
The proposal is now before the City Council for its review.