Council negotiates modifications to 125th Street rezoning

Council Members Dickens and Jackson defend plan despite vocal opposition from local residents. On April 30, 2008, the City Council modified the Department of City Planning’s plan to rezone the 125th Street corridor, a 24-block area in the Harlem section of Manhattan.

The plan will rezone large portions of the east and west ends of the corridor to encourage arts, entertainment, and retail uses. The plan will also impose height limits, street wall continuity requirements, and measures to preserve nearby brownstone neighborhoods.

At the Council’s public hearing before the Zoning and Franchises subcommittee, Amanda Burden, Chair of the City Planning Commission, testified that the plan will create Upper Manhattan’s first inclusionary housing bonus, and the City’s first Arts Bonus to encourage developers to provide space for arts and entertainment uses. Burden also testified that the plan would result in 2 million sq.ft. of office space and 8,200 new jobs. Burden concluded her testimony by noting that the three Council Members who represent the area, the affected Community Boards, Congressman Charles Rangel and Governor David Paterson all backed the plan.

whose district includes Harlem, supported the plan, but suggested modifications to impose stricter height limits, ensure more affordable housing, and provide direct financial assistance to local businesses impacted by the zoning changes. Lloyd Williams of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Frank Perry of Manhattan Community Board 10, and Jonelle Procope of the Apollo Theater Foundation all testified in support of the agreement, but, like Dickens, requested further modifications to protect the area against out-of-character development and the displacement of local residents and businesses.

Regina Smith, Executive Director of the Harlem Business Alliance, testified against the plan out of a concern that it would result in higher property taxes that could price out black-owned businesses and local residents. Smith recommended that the City create a local development fund, paid for by levying a small tax on new developments, to aid small businesses and mitigate displacement. Chair of the subcommittee, Council Member Tony Avella, then closed the hearing without a vote.

When the subcommittee reconvened on April 15, 2008, Dickens announced that she had reached an agreement with the City to address her concerns with the plan. The plan will be modified to reduce the maximum residential density on the south side of 125th Street from 8.0 to 7.2 FAR. The City also agreed to initiate follow-up amendments to the plan to reduce the density on the north side of 125th Street from 12.0 to 7.2 FAR, as well as reduce maximum building height from 290 feet to 195 feet. The amendments are intended to assuage concerns that the plan would encourage luxury housing that could change Harlem’s character and displace local residents.

The agreement also required that 46 percent of the projected 3,858 total new housing units be income targeted, with some units offered to those earning less than 40 percent of area median income. Further, 700 units would be permanently affordable, and 350 units would carry an affordable purchase option.

Lastly, the City committed to provide financial assistance to 71 businesses and to various cultural organizations in Harlem, as well as $6 million towards capital improvements for Marcus Garvey Park, located just south of the 125th Street corridor. Moreover, local businesses wishing to relocate will have at their disposal a $1 million fund established by the New York City Economic Development Corporation to cover their moving costs.

The subcommittee voted to approve the plan with Dickens’ modifications. The Land Use Committee followed suit the next day. On April 30, 2008, the full Council voted 47 to 2 for the plan.

ULURP Process:
Lead Agency: CPC,Pos.Dec.
Comm.Bd.: MN 9, 11,App’d; MN 10,Den’d
CPC: App’d, 11-2-0
Council: App’d, 47-2-0

Council: 125th Street Plan (Apr. 1 and 15, 2008); “Points of Agreement,” Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (Apr. 15, 2008).

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