On Wednesday night, well over 100 people packed into the Community Board 12 Land Use Committee meeting—with more than a dozen outside, unable to fit in—and almost unanimously denounced even the suggestion of rezoning Inwood to higher densities given the limits on how much rent-restricted housing an upzoning would create.
“[Mandatory Inclusionary Housing] is a Trojan horse for development that causes displacement,” said Pat Courtney of Inwood Preservation, referring to the city’s policy of requiring a portion of rent-restricted housing in rezoned areas. And to applause, Marshall Douglass, from Uptown Progressive Action and the Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale coalition, said he hoped EDC would take note of the “vehemence against [when] outsiders come and tell us what we want in our neighborhood.”
The meeting was the first public discussion to follow the Economic Development Corporation (EDC)’s announcement that, in response to neighborhood feedback, it was expanding the boundaries of its proposed rezoning area to include not only the areas east of 10th Avenue, but significant portions of the neighborhood west of 10th Avenue.
Community groups and elected officials have long called for a contextual rezoning for the neighborhood that would limit the allowable building heights and preserve neighborhood character—and in May EDC said it would seek to honor that request, along with exploring potentially higher densities along avenues in order to trigger the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy.
But some participants said they were startled by a pamphlet provided Wednesday that illustrated, among other, less dense options, possible scenarios in which some of the avenues and even side streets were upzoned to higher densities.
Detailed discussion of zoning possibilities
Wednesday was the first opportunity for the community to see what exact zoning designations the city was considering. In small groups facilitated by city staff, participants were asked to look at examples of how particular sites might look under various zoning scenarios and provide feedback.
For instance, on the corner of Broadway and West 207 Street, under the current zoning of R7-2, a typical new building could be eight to 16 stories and include about 112 market-rate apartments.
Under one potential new zoning, R7A—the preferred zoning designation of several community groups—heights would always be limited to eight stories and typically include 112 market-rate apartments.
Under another potential option, R7D, heights would be limited to 11 stories, typically including 125 to 133 market-rate apartments and 42 to 50 rent-restricted ones.
Yet another potential option is R8A—14 story buildings with 166 to 178 market-rate apartments and 56 to 67 rent-restricted ones.
The city has not yet endorsed any of these scenarios; in fact, director of the Department of City Planning Marisa Lago recently expressed reservations that a private developers’ application to rezone parts of Seaman Avenue to R8A would disrupt the fabric of the neighborhood.
Many attendees, sporting buttons that said “Rezone R7A Inwood,” denounced the two denser options presented, even though they would result in the creation of some income-targeted units. They said that considering that the rent-restricted units required by mandatory inclusionary housing would not be affordable to the quarter of Inwood families that make less than $20,000 a year, they could see little use in adding more density to the neighborhood.
Some were concerned that taller buildings will destroy Inwood’s character or overtax neighborhood infrastructure. Even more are worried that bigger buildings in which a majority of apartments are market-rate—along with the attention generated by a rezoning—will only accelerate the neighborhood’s gentrification and the displacement of low-income residents.
“How can we survive with what you’re proposing?” said resident Candida Uraga through a translator. “We’re not thinking about the people who pay their rent but can’t, at the same time, put food on the table.”
One outlier said that he might be willing to consider a limited upzoning to R7D of particular areas if he had been offered more knowledge about the city’s overall plan for the neighborhood, including how much affordable housing would be created east of 10th Avenue. (While the city has already proposed rezoning the areas west of 10th avenue from industrial and auto-uses to residential and commercial uses, including some rent-restricted housing under the mandatory inclusionary housing policy, that part of the plan was not part of the discussion on Wednesday.)
Community Board Chair Wayne Benjamin—who labored all evening to limit protest, but also to meet a request for continuous Spanish translation—said that the board has long called for some kind of contextual rezoning.
“This is the first time they’ve actually stepped up and begun doing something,” he said. “Now the question is, what’s the proper zone.”
He added that because the neighborhood’s character varies, he believes different zoning designations might be appropriate for different parts of the neighborhood. Yet he noted that the board, like many in the community, has long objected that the affordable units required by mandatory inclusionary housing do not target lower incomes.
Critics increasingly organized
It was clear that the Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale coalition, Save Inwood Library and other neighborhood groups opposed to displacement or overdevelopment had turned out in full force, each with their own, sometimes overlapping demands.
There were repeated calls for a contextual rezoning to be expanded to areas to the south and north of those offered by EDC. Others said the city should not redevelop Inwood library with affordable housing, but instead find other sites for affordable housing development. Many recommended the city discontinue the use of zoning as a tool to create affordable housing, and place more focus on protecting rent-stabilized apartments and their tenants and ending the warehousing of vacant properties.
Reflecting a desire to ensure sufficient participation of Inwood’s Latino community, attendees also pressed for continuous Spanish translation after the community board’s translator departed before the meeting had finished.
At the next rezoning discussion on July 6, EDC will present their findings from Wednesday’s meeting, and the Land Use Committee will hold a hearing for the private developers’ application to rezone the site on Seaman Avenue.
While the meeting has already been pushed back from July 5 to accommodate vacation schedules, there were calls at Wednesday’s meeting to further push back the meeting date to ensure better attendance. City Limits will post the final date and time at our Zonein.org event page as soon as a decision has been reached.
UPDATE: Stephanie Baez, an EDC representative, said in a statement sent to City Limits, “We welcome the opportunity to discuss this initiative, provide information and listen to the community’s input. We look forward to continuing this conversation with Community Board 12, residents and stakeholders in order to inform a plan that will bring affordable housing, jobs, and waterfront access to Inwood residents, while preserving the neighborhood’s distinct character.”