City Council Rejects Proposed Rezoning of Inwood Site Needed for New Development with 50 Percent Affordable Housing

Rendering of Proposed Development. Image Credit: KPA Architects

Rendering of Proposed Development. Image Credit: KPA Architects

City Council rejected the first private application of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. On August 16, 2016, the City Council rejected a proposal to rezone a large corner lot in order to construct a new mixed-use development located at 4650 Broadway in Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood. Currently a two-story commercial building operating as a parking garage and U-Haul truck rental facility occupies the site. The original proposal from the developer, Acadia Sherman Avenue LLC, was to build a new mixed-use building that would have retail and community space on the bottom two floors, contain 335 residential units and rise 23 stories. The original project would have made permanent 30 percent of the floor area as affordable housing under the new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law.

After submitting an application, the developer had multiple meetings with Manhattan Community Board 12, representatives for City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and other community groups. Concerns raised in these meetings included displacement, gentrification, affordability, the number of affordable units and the building’s height. At one community board meeting Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez stated that he would only support the project if 50 percent of the units were affordable. The developers subsequently amended their proposal. The new proposal increased the residential units to 355, but lowered the building height to 15 stories, and committed to 50 percent affordable housing.

Manhattan Community Board 12, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the City Planning Commission all approved the revised proposal. Borough President Gale Brewer called the modifications “a significant improvement on the as of right scenario where one could see an even taller building built under today’s zoning, but one which would not include a single unit of affordable housing.”

On July 12, 2016, the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held a public hearing where 23 witnesses testified—four in favor and nineteen against the proposed rezoning. Opening the hearing, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez stated: “I’m not yet at a place where I can say I support this project, but I’m optimistic that with . . . guaranteed permanent affordable housing coupled with community space and a solid percent accessible commercial rentals for local businesses we can see a mutually beneficial project move forward.”

Paul Travis from Washington Square Partners, testifying on behalf of the developer, reiterated that the developer was committed to 50 percent affordable housing. The developer’s proposal would have implemented a variation on the mixed income affordable housing program offered by the Housing Development Corporation. The building would have provided 30 percent housing for residents earning 40 percent of the area median income, 20 percent housing for residents earning between 110 and 135 of the area median income and 50 percent would have been at market-rate. City Council Member Vincent Gentile, questioning the 50 percent commitment, asked if the additional affordable housing was dependent on a subsidy through one of the City’s housing programs. In response, Paul Travis replied yes, but noted that the developer would have preferred to use the now lapsed 421-a tax break to reach 50 percent.

Maggie Clark, co-founder of Inwood Preservation, testified that allowing such spot zoning would “establish a dangerous precedent for Inwood as there are other builders sitting on the sidelines waiting . . . then we’re going to have all of our parks lined with tall buildings.” Nancy Preston, speaking on behalf of Moving Forward Unidos, testified that the project would be “out of context in this neighborhood of six story buildings” and that the “closest high density zoning is several miles south.” Nancy Preston finished by saying, “This Trojan horse appearing as a gift of affordable housing is like a little army marching out of luxury units. . . . It’s unaffordable to all of us.”

Elizabeth Lorris Ritter, a member of Manhattan Community Board 12 who spoke on behalf of the Hudson Heights Owners Coalition, testified that the she had reservations about whether the developer would be able to guarantee 50 percent affordable housing. She did not, however, want the City Council to reject the proposal because she feared that the developer would build a much taller building with less floor area and no affordable housing. Noting that the revised proposal was a step in the right direction, Elizabeth Ritter recommended that the City Council order an environmental impact study and reduce the building by two more stories.

On August 16, 2016, both the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and the Committee on Land Use voted unanimously to disapprove the proposal. The City Council deferred to the local representative’s judgment and unanimously voted to block the project. At an unrelated press conference on August 18, 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio called the denied proposal a “lost opportunity.” He further said, “There was a chance to get, I think, 67 affordable units for families in the community. Now we have zero affordable units. Someone tell me why that’s a victory.”

City Council: LU 1187-2016, 1188-2016 (Aug. 16, 2016).

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016)

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