City Planning’s proposal challenged by issues related to affordable housing and protecting Chinatown. On August 13, 2008, the City Planning Commission heard extensive testimony on a plan to rezone 111 blocks in the East Village and Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Department of City Planning began the public review process for the original proposal in May 2008, 5 CityLand 72 (June 15, 2008), and then later filed modifications after reviewing Community Board 3’s recommendations. The modifications apply the Inclusionary Housing Program to certain proposed R7A areas, replace a portion of a C6-2A zoning district with a C6-3A district along Chrystie Street, and eliminate a text change designed to encourage non-conforming commercial uses in the mid-block areas of proposed R8B districts.
At the hearing, Council Member Rosie Mendez testified that a plan was needed to stem over-development and stop the loss of affordable housing in her district. Mendez believes that the current plan, with some modifications and additions, can achieve the right balance of “development, preservation, and tenant protection.” David McWater, Susan Stetzer, and Dominic Pisciotta, all from Community Board 3, stressed the need to include the anti-harassment and anti-demolition restrictions that govern the Special Clinton District, and also requested that the City commit to ensuring that 30 percent of housing built under the new zoning be permanently affordable to households earning less than 80 percent of the area medium income.
With at least 100 of its members protesting outside, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown/LES spoke in opposition. The Coalition believes that the proposed higher density zoning along Chrystie Street, Delancey Street, and Avenue D will encourage “a wall of luxury highrises around Chinatown and the Lower East Side,” ultimately dividing Community Board 3 into two or three separate communities. Speakers for the Coalition suggested that the Commission scrap the proposed plan and create a new one that included all of Community Board 3. The Coalition was also concerned that affordable housing targeted up to 80 percent of area medium income would not prevent most local residents from being priced-out of the neighborhood.
Borough President Scott Stringer admitted that the Coalition had some legitimate concerns, but stated that scrapping the plan would not address them. Stringer called for the City to commit resources to a future rezoning in Chinatown. Christopher Kui, of Asian Americans for Equality, agreed that Chinatown should have its own rezoning process. Kui offered his support for the plan, but pressed the Commission to exclude Chrystie Street and include it in a future rezoning of Chinatown.
The Commission has until October 10, 2008 to vote on the proposal.
CITYLAND Note: At the Commission’s post-hearing meeting, Chair Amanda Burden stated that the Mayor’s Office, through its Community Affairs Unit, is convening with leadership in Chinatown to address the community’s concerns.