Christian Vasquez

The meeting is just one milestone in a long process, some of it official but much of it consisting of outreach efforts by community groups and coalitions that produced plans of their own.

More than 200 people were on hand Tuesday for a key hearing by Community Board 11 on the city’s plans for a key site on 111th Street and a far wider proposed rezoning of East Harlem.

Both proposals are part of the de Blasio administration’s program of increasing the number of residential units in selected neighborhoods—producing some market-rate apartments and some income-targeted units—with the aim of increasing the availability of affordable housing.

Like the rezoning of East New York last year, and as is shaping up to be the case in places like the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx where a formal rezoning proposal is likely, the mayor’s push has run into deep concerns about the impact of new development on neighborhoods where displacement and gentrification are seen as imminent threats. City Hall says rezonings and the investments and policy moves that accompany them can relieve pressure on low-income tenants that the market is already generating. But many low-income tenants and advocates worry the rezonings will render more harm than help.

In East Harlem, at least, the rezoning debate is not binary. The city’s rezoning proposal is just one of the plans on the table. The East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, authored by a coalition of community stakeholders convened by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, also calls for a rezoning but proposes less density and deeper affordability. Other organizations say there should be no rezoning at all; the Movement for Justice in El Barrio, for one, says what East Harlem needs is not more development but better enforcement of the housing code in order to protect tenants from being driven out.

Tuesday’s hearing began with a briefing on the 111th Street plan by representatives of the private developers selected to build on that site.

The public was invited to comment and ask questions about the proposal. Skepticism was dominant, but there was some support for elements of the plan:

Next, the Department of City Planning presented its rezoning proposal, which it stressed had been based on important threads from the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan:

Finally, it was the public’s turn. Among the many speakers were …

Dennis Osorio from Community Voices Heard, who warned: “If this rezoning proposal goes through it’s likely my landlord will kick me and my neighborhood out of our six-story walk-up. … This is a bad deal, immoral even.”

George Brown, representing 32BJ, argued for deeper affordable housing but emphasized his desire for developers who take advantage of the rezoning to be required to do local hiring and pay prevailing wages.

Maria Pacheco, who lives in senior housing in the area, said “All this money they’re spending on these beautiful buildings, some of it could come to us and the buildings where we are living now, which are going to the dogs.”

Shantal Sparks urged attendees to attend meetings of the rezoning task force, which she said aimed to make sure “if this project goes through … that it reflects what the community wants to see.”

Salave Leon of Movement for Justice in El Barrio accused the community board of duplicity.

The community board now must vote on the proposal before it goes to the Manhattan borough president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and, if approved, the mayor’s desk.

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