West Harlem Rezoning Awaits Council Subcommittee Vote

Proposed zoning map. Credit: DCP

Local community board generally supported 90-block rezoning, but requested that portion of West 145th Street be downzoned to protect existing HUD buildings. On October 3, 2012, the City Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee heard testimony on the Department of City Planning’s proposal to rezone 90 blocks in West Harlem. The rezoning would impact approximately 1,900 lots generally bounded by West 155th Street to the north, West 126th Street to the south, Bradhurst Avenue to the east, and Riverside Drive to the west. City Planning’s proposal seeks to protect the area’s existing residential character, create incentives for affordable housing development, encourage appropriate growth along retail corridors, and create opportunities for mixed-use development in the area’s manufacturing zone.

West Harlem is predominantly characterized by medium-density residential development, including three- to four-story rowhouses and larger five- to six-story apartment buildings. Taller residential buildings can be found on the blocks between Broadway and Riverside Drive. A major retail corridor with active residential use spans West 145th Street, while commercial overlays also cover portions of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. A small manufacturing area located in the southernmost tip of the rezoning area includes the partially demolished former Taystee Cake Factory complex, the Mink Building, and Metropolitan Transit Authority facilities.

The rezoning area is primarily zoned R8 and R7-2. The blocks west of Broadway are zoned R8, while the majority of the blocks east of Broadway are zoned R7-2. Portions of five blocks in the southern boundary of the rezoning area along Amsterdam Avenue are zoned M1-1 for light manufacturing uses. City Planning’s proposal would rezone small pockets west of Broadway from R8 to R6A to better match existing development, and replace the R7-2 zoning with a mixture of R6A, R7A, R8, and R8A districts. The M1-1 district in the south would be replaced by the Special Mixed Use District 15 (MX 15), which would combine an M1-5 district with an R7-2 district and permit as-of-right residential, commercial, and light industrial uses.

The plan includes rezoning the intersection of Broadway and West 145th Street to a C6-3X district, permitting a range of future uses with building heights set at a maximum of 170 feet. The City’s Inclusionary Housing Program would be applicable to the C6-3X district and an R8A district on West 145th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. (See CityLand’s past coverage here.)

Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer recommended approval of the rezoning. Manhattan Community Board 9 supported the plan, but was concerned that the proposed R8A zoning and availability of the inclusionary housing bonus along West 145th Street would create development pressure and lead to the demolition of existing federally subsidized, rent-regulated housing. CB 9 recommended rezoning West 145th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue from R7-2 to R7A instead of R8A.

At the City Planning Commission’s hearing on July 25, 2012, several members of CB 9 testified in support, but Patricia Jones, co-chair of CB 9’s Land Use & Zoning Committee, expressed concern that the proposed R8A zoning would lead to the loss of 215 existing affordable housing units and urged City Planning to modify the proposal.

At City Planning’s hearing, Attorney Caroline Harris represented the owner of 655 St. Nicholas Avenue, a vacant lot currently zoned R7-2. She testified that under the proposal, a small portion of the owner’s lot would be rezoned to R6A, while the rest of the lot would be rezoned to R7A. According to Harris, the resulting split lot condition would restrict the development potential of the site because of the differences in floor area ratios and height requirements under both zones. She asked City Planning to push the R6A district boundary back so that it ran down the lot line, rather than through the owner’s lot. Harris also testified that rezoning the entire block from R7-2 to R7A “really put a wrench” in discussions between the owner of 655 St. Nicholas Avenue and its neighbor, the Harlem School of the Arts, about the possibility of purchasing air development rights from the school. Yvette Campbell, president of the Harlem School of the Arts, claimed that rezoning would reduce the school’s transferable development rights by 75 percent, which would dramatically reduce an important source of potential revenue.

City Planning acknowledged CB 9’s concerns about the protection of West 145th Street’s existing affordable housing, but noted that the proposal’s environmental review had not identified any danger of residential displacement as a result of the rezoning. City Planning emphasized that the proposal appropriately promoted the development of affordable housing on a block well served by public transit. Responding to Caroline Harris’ testimony, City Planning modified the rezoning proposal by moving the boundary line of the R6A district to resolve the split lot condition at 655 St. Nicholas Avenue. In response to the Harlem School of the Arts’ concerns, City Planning noted that the school did not have concrete plans for the sale of its development rights and encouraged the school to consult with City Planning in the future. City Planning did not modify the rezoning on the school’s block.

City Planning approved the rezoning by a vote of 10-1-0. Commissioner Michelle R. de la Uz voted “No,” citing City Planning’s failure to modify the proposal to protect the existing affordable housing on West 145th Street.

When the rezoning proposal reached City Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee on October 3, 2012, representatives of CB 9 and community residents reiterated their concerns about affordable housing on West 145th Street and asked the Council to modify the rezoning proposal. Council Member Robert Jackson, whose district includes West Harlem, was supportive of the proposal, but concerned about whether the R8A zoning along the West 145th Street corridor would lead to the displacement of residents. In response to Council Member Jackson’s concerns, City Planning’s Melissa Cerezo explained that it would be “extremely arduous” to demolish existing federal housing, which would require a Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved plan.

Zoning & Franchises Chair Mark Weprin closed the hearing to allow further discussion about the proposal. The Subcommittee is expected to vote on the proposal on October 23, 2012.

Council: West Harlem Rezoning and Text Amendment (C 120309 ZMM – rezoning); (N 120310 ZRM – text amendment) (October 3, 2012).

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