City Planning Commission Holds Hearing on East Houston Street Rezoning

City Planning Commission hearing testimony at the June 8th hearing. Image credit: CityLand

City Planning Commission hearing testimony at the June 8th hearing. Image credit: CityLand

The proposed rezoning would facilitate the development of a mixed-use building where an unoccupied, deteriorating building currently stands. On June 8th, 2016, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on an application to amend the City’s zoning map to facilitate the construction of a 13-story mixed-use building at 255 Houston Street, located on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

The building currently located at 255 East Houston Street has not been in use since 2010, when the building had been destabilized by the construction work being done at 265 East Houston. The destabilization of the building caused the issuance of a vacate order, which required the then-tenants of the building, Action for Progress day care center, to leave the premises and re-locate to a different facility in the area. Since Action for Progress vacated the premises in 2010, it has slowly deteriorated, has become covered with graffiti and walls of scaffolding, and has received numerous violations from the Department of Buildings which remain open to date.

At the June 8th hearing, Greenberg Traurig’s Nick Hockens testified on behalf of the applicant. According to Hockens, the zoning map amendment is required in order to make any significant changes to the buildings located on the 2.5 blocks at issue because of the existing buildings’ nonconforming retail uses.

City Planning Commissioner Anna Hayes Levin noted that according to Manhattan Community Board 3 and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, the 2.5 blocks at issue had been intentionally zoned for residential use under the 2008 East Village/Lower East Side Rezoning. Accordingly, she questioned Hockens on whether it would be advisable to change the zoning map against its intended usage, but Hockens stated that he is not actually convinced that the blocks at issue are intended to remain untouched.

GiGi Li, Chair of Manhattan Community Board 3, testified in detail about how the current application would go against the intended purpose behind the 2008 rezoning and against the current needs of the community. According to Li, the 2008 rezoning facilitated the construction of ground floor community facilities, because the neighborhood was then in need of affordable childcare, as well as other non-profit services. While the current application seeks only to touch a portion of the area rezoned in 2008, the proposed rezoning would allow for usages geared towards improving the nightlife in the area, which is in opposition to the needs of the community.

Chair Carl Weisbrod asked about the repercussions that the buildings at issue will face if the blocks at issue are not rezoned to allow for changes to the buildings’ uses. Chair Weisbrod asked: “Wouldn’t it be better to let those uses be upgraded rather than deteriorate over time?”

Erica Baptiste, Urban Planner at Borough President Gale Brewer’s Office, responded to Chair Weisbrod by deferring to the voices of the community members who would be affected by the map amendment, especially in light of how very vocal they had been during the 2008 rezoning. Gigi Li responded to Chair Weisbrod by noting that while Community Board 3’s land use committee had discussed this issue, the Community Board is more concerned with the overall planning of both the neighborhood and the community. According to Li, the Community Board has been feeling pressured by the high rate of new development in the neighborhood which is moving the community in an undesirable direction, and it is currently prioritizing the preservation of as much of the neighborhood as possible by responding to such applications on the defensive.

In March of 2016, Manhattan Community Board 3 recommended disapproval the application.  On June 1, 2016, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recommended disapproval of the application, as well.

CPC: East Houston Street Rezoning (160137-ZMM) (June 8, 2016).

By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

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