On Monday afternoon, the East Harlem community board added a new item on the agenda of this Tuesday night’s meeting: “Ratification and Confirmation of the June 20, 2017 Vote on the East Harlem Neighborhood Rezoning.”
As of press time, it is still unclear what “ratification and confirmation” means. In any event, some kind of clarification about last week’s hectic vote is set to take place Tuesday night.
If you’re confused about what exactly the board voted on last week, why it’s being discussed again, and what to expect next, you’re not alone. We’ve created a diagram of the process so far and, below, tried to provide straightforward answers to the questions you may have.
Did the board vote for the city’s rezoning or against it?
According to the voting tally announced during the meeting, the community board voted “no” to the city’s rezoning unless the city adopted a number of modifications and other recommendations, which are summarized here here. Some are referring to this stance as “no with conditions.”
That night, City Limits was told that 37 community board members voted to support this motion, while seven voted against it and one member abstained. However, a later tally sent out to board members the next day included a slightly different count: 33 in favor, eight against, with one abstention and one “no vote.”
Many protesters at last week’s board meeting wanted the board to vote “no with no conditions.” That’s because some don’t want to see any kind of rezoning at all, period.
In any case, the community board and borough president’s votes are only advisory, and only the City Planning Commission or City Council can kill a rezoning (and only City Council has the power to approve one).*
Was the vote valid?
On June 20, when the East Harlem community board tried to take a roll-call vote on the city’s proposed rezoning, the vote was disrupted by protesters—some local residents, and some anti-gentrification activists from other parts of the city—and the board proceeded to vote by passing around a piece of paper.
Over the past week, some board members, speaking on behalf of themselves and not the board, have questioned whether that vote was done properly or should be invalidated.
Board member Marie Winfield said she did not vote because she thought the vote should be taken through a public, oral roll call; it’s in the board’s bylaws that votes are taken by roll call.
Jarquay Abdullah explained that he abstained because he mistakenly thought voting against the motion would be equivalent to approving the rezoning.
Frances Mastrota said that given the chaotic environment and many the presence of new board members, there may have been opportunities for confusion about what the motion meant. A few days after the vote, when the community board sent out a record of the votes to its members, another board member said that his vote had been incorrectly tallied.
Last but not least, a non-board member, Roger Hernandez of El Barrio Unite, argues that board leadership mischaracterized Robert’s Rules of Order in a way that prevented an opportunity for a vote on “no with no conditions.” As of press time, City Limits was unable to confirm Hernandez’s interpretation of the Robert’s Rules of Order. The Borough President’s Office and Chair Diane Collier were also unable to respond by press time.
Others, however, have shown sympathy for the board’s efforts to conduct business in the midst of the demonstrations.
Board member Xavier Santiago, speaking for himself and not the board, says that with all the protesting going on, it was impossible to have a meaningful discussion about the motions.
“I think it was a very uncomfortable environment and it should not have escalated that way,” he says. He adds that one member of the public “put his hands” on him in a way he considered out of order.
“People keep forgetting that it’s not an us-verses-them,” he says. “We are all there on that board because we love this community and we don’t’ want to lose our neighbors.”
A few people confirmed reports that a member of the public said something about going to community board members’ homes, which could have been interpreted as a physical threat, though its meaning was not entirely clear.
Another board member, in an e-mail to the borough president’s office, expressed similar concerns about the escalation of protests, and asked for better training on how to “de-escalate situations such as the one that arose on Tuesday’s meeting as well as what proper procedures should be (keeping in mind the Open Meetings Law) to ensure the safety of all involved.”
In a reply e-mail last Thursday, deputy borough president Aldrin Bonilla commended the board and the board’s leadership for its conduct at Tuesday’s meeting.
“To be honest, the board did everything it possibly could and there was little to prevent the protesters intent on shutting down the meeting,” he wrote. “The Chair Diane Collier handled an intense and difficult situation with calm, firmness and grace even amid being personally disrespected by the protesters, [including by] extending the public comment session,” he wrote.
What comes next?
At Tuesday’s meeting, in addition to discussing the “Ratification and Confirmation of the June 20, 2017 Vote on the East Harlem Neighborhood Rezoning,” the board will also vote on other business that it could not discuss due to the abrupt adjournment, following a fight, at last week’s meeting. The full board will vote on the city’s proposal to redevelop the 111th Street ballfields. That project was “approved with conditions” by the Land Use Committee on June 14.
Next, Borough President Gale Brewer will hold a hearing on the East Harlem rezoning on July 13 at 6:30 pm, Silberman School of Social Work, 2180 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10035.
*Correction: Originally stated that only the City Council’s vote is binding. In fact, if the City Planning Commission votes against a rezoning, that is also a binding decision.