As protesters stormed the stage at a meeting of Manhattan’s Community Board 11 last night after hours of public comment, the board voted against a plan to upzone major avenues in East Harlem unless the Department of City Planning adopts the recommendations made by the board’s rezoning task force. But some board members questioned the process that lead to the vote and the final tally’s validity.
A full version of the task force’s recommendations can be viewed here and a condensed version here. Those recommendations in many ways lent support to, and in some ways built upon, the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, the proposal created by a community coalition led by local councilwoman and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito that included a rezoning for the area.
DCP’s proposal, which covers the area roughly between East 104th Street to East 132nd, and from Second Avenue to Park Avenue, did take into account some of the demands of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, but the board’s rezoning task force’s position was that the city’s plan does not fully enough absorb the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan’s zoning recommendations, as well as other points included in the neighborhood plan. Last Friday, the board’s Land Use Committee voted against the rezoning unless the city adopted the rezoning task force’s recommendations.
Critics of the board, however, thought the vote should have been a straight no. When during the public comment period Alba Campuzano, an East Harlem resident said in Spanish translated to English: “We want 30 percent of new housing to be built for us,” others shouted back “too low!”
That was the position of many who chanted in protest and disrupted the vote Tuesday night as hundreds gathered in a large auditorium at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. One after another spoke out against the plan, which was called a “luxury housing plan,” a “payday for slumlords,” and a “scam racist proposal,” among other things. People held signs reading “East Harlem is not for Sale” and “Stop Racist Rezoning” and pleaded with board members to vote no, expressing fears that the plan would ultimately displace them.
The city determined during its legally mandated environmental review that the rezoning would not result in significant displacement because of rising rents, but does expect the rezoning to directly displace residents of 11 apartments in two buildings and 14 businesses.
Marina Ortiz, who also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, called the city’s numbers “a straight-up lie.”
Many who demanded the board vote no with no conditions said the task force recommendations didn’t go far enough to ward of gentrification.
The recommendations include 100 percent affordable housing on city-owned sites, a program to prevent displacement of rent-stabilized tenants, and a request that density be increased just enough for the area to fall under the mandatory inclusionary housing policy, under which 20-30 percent of developments are kept “affordable”. (The task force, however, wants that percentage raised to 50 percent affordability on private land, with 20 percent reserved for families of three making no more than $25,770 and the remaining 30 percent reserved for middle-income families making up to $103,080.)
Among the East Harlem residents who have rejected outright the idea of the rezoning since its inception are members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, which has adopted its own ten-point plan. The points include improved outreach to inform tenants of their rights and better enforcement of the housing code. In emails over the weekend, some of these stakeholders expressed consternation that not all the points were incorporated into the task force recommendations, and they reiterated their opposition to any rezoning.
Prior to the vote, some of the board members sent emails expressing dissatisfaction with the fact that they didn’t receive a copy of the task force recommendations until two-and-a-half hours before the meeting and had little time to review them. The written copy of those recommendations that are linked above, while read aloud at the Land Use Committee last Friday, are still not available to the public through the board’s website (they were obtained through a board member by City Limits).
As the board chair tried to hold the vote on the motion to vote down the proposal unless the task force resolutions were adopted, people from the audience took over the stage where board members sat, chanting “no conditions,” remaining there for about 15 minutes, holding signs and banners, making it difficult to take the vote. It was eventually taken by tally on a piece of paper even though some board members had already left their seats.
The final vote was 31-7, with one abstention, Chair Diane Collier told City Limits during the close of the meeting (the board’s office staff were unable to confirm this on Wednesday morning, but it was unclear why).
However, there seemed to be confusion among board members as to whether voting the motion down would amount to voting yes to the rezoning, with no conditions at all.
Jarquay Abdullah abstained because of that issue.
“I had to because either you vote yes, you’re agreeing to the no with…conditions. If you vote no, you’re agreeing to the rezoning,” he said, adding “I want to vote no with no conditions.”
“Did I even vote? I can’t recognize whatever I did,” said board member Mahfuzur Rahman, explaining that he believed the circumstances under which the vote was taken invalidated it. Even so, he voted “no” on the motion because he wanted the rezoning task force’s conditions, as well as a requirement for the city to commit to them, included in the language.
Candy Vives-Vasquez, Land Use, Landmarks & Planning chair, said the chaos in the room meant no explanation of the motion could be heard over the shouting and that led to confusion.
“They don’t understand we’re saying no because it’s not conforming to the community’s vision,” she said.
The board did not vote Tuesday on a related proposal of whether to bring 100 percent rent-restricted development to the 111th Street Ballfield site, since the meeting was adjourned following the zoning vote after things got so contentious that a hospital staff member and police officers tried to help calm things down.
Borough President Gale Brewer will likely hold a hearing on the rezoning on July 13, 6:30 pm at the Silberman School of Social Work, 2180 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10035.