On Tuesday night, Community Board 11 voted to accept the results of the original vote on the East Harlem rezoning taken by the board one week earlier on Tuesday, June 20.
As City Limits reported last week, June 20’s roll-call vote was disrupted by protesting, and board leadership passed around a piece of paper and asked members to record their position in written form. Some have since questioned the validity of that vote.
The discussion at this Tuesday’s meeting began with a statement from Jim Caras, legal counsel to the Manhattan Borough President Office. He said that under city charter rules, the board had to vote on the rezoning by Monday, July 3, and that while the board had voted “No with conditions” the previous Tuesday, in a desire for full transparency and to prevent the results of the vote from being questioned, the board would now confirm the previous week’s decision.
27 members voted to “ratify and confirm” the previous week’s vote—or, in other words, to accept the results of the previous week—with seven voting against and three present but not voting. Not all members of the board who were present last week were in attendance this week.
Some of those who voted against the adoption of last week’s vote argued that for the sake of transparency there should be a retaking of the vote, that the vote had been “compromised” or that there had not been an adequate discussion about the rezoning among board members during the previous week’s vote. Others, in favor of moving on, said that the board had been deliberating for months and that the board had come up with a good set of requirements for what kind of rezoning they would allow.
David Giordano, who spoke passionately for the need for more discussion, ultimately took a “present but not voting” position because he thought that since his vote had been incorrectly tallied last week, it might be considered a conflict of interest for him to vote on whether or not to accept last week’s results, he explained to City Limits after the meeting.
Though there were far fewer members of the public present and the vote was not disrupted, there were hisses of disappointment after each vote in favor of accepting last week’s tally. Earlier in the evening, 10 out of 11 people testified against a rezoning (the 11th spoke on another matter).
Local advocate Marina Ortiz said that she’d been called a “rude ghetto animal” by members of the board the previous week (City Limits has not confirmed this report). She added she thought she would lighten things up this time—and then proceeded to sing Jimmy Cliff’s “Let Your Yeah By Yeah,” making a musical call for a “no with no conditions” vote against any rezoning. Contrary to accounts of out-of-order protestors, she argued that protestors were the victims of physical aggression by board members at last week’s meeting, and she called for a number of reforms to community boards, including public elections rather than appointments and term limits.
Video has surfaced that shows at least one board member used foul language to address a protestor.
Roger Hernandez of El Barrio Unite said he thought the board had violated rules of order by not allowing a “no with no conditions” vote to be proposed simultaneously. He also mentioned that the last time the board had voted “no with conditions”—to the mayor’s proposed mandatory inclusionary housing policy—it hadn’t made a difference.
“What makes the board think now in 2017 that a ‘no vote with conditions’ is going to go any further than it did  months ago?” he asked.
Two members of Community Voices Heard spoke out against the board’s vote of no with conditions. Although several of these conditions are to make the city’s rezoning more like the rezoning included in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan created by a steering committee of organizations including Community Voices Heard, many Community Voices Heard members are still opposed to a “no with conditions” vote.
CVH’s call for $200 million for local NYCHA developments and demand that 40 percent of the apartments on public land be set side for families making below $25,770 and that 30 percent of total housing be affordable to such families, were not included in the board’s conditions.
Now that the community board has confirmed its position of a no with conditions, the plan is up for review by Borough President Gale Brewer. Brewer will hold a hearing on the rezoning on July 13 at 6:30 pm at the Silberman School of Social Work, 2180 3rd Avenue.
Board approves with conditions plan for ballfield
The board also voted to approve, with conditions, the redevelopment of the 111th Street ballfields with 100 percent rent-restricted housing, with five members opposed and three members abstaining.
Those conditions included, among others, local hiring and apprenticeship requirements, public access to open spaces, and more units targeted to lower-incomes.
Some people wanted the board to vote no in order to take a stance against the city’s choice of a for-profit developer rather than a non-profit or community land trust.
Disagreements over rules and conduct
Chair Diane Collier made clear that she felt the disruption at the previous meeting had been unacceptable.
“I have no problem with protests and everyone has the right to hear and have their voices heard, but…[protestors] do not have the right to disrupt the proceedings of the board,” she said.
She further cautioned that if there was again disruption, she would ask people to sit down, but added, “I have been advised that I can ask the police to remove you from the room.”
While a few police officers stood in the door to the meeting room the entire night, Collier never asked for their assistance, instead asking people to sit down during a few moments of disruption. She also extended the public comment session to give additional people time to speak.
Yet other members of the public characterized last week’s protests as necessary civil disobedience.
“In terms of the disruption, if people do not protest and break laws, then most of us in the room wouldn’t even be able to vote today. This is how social change happens,” said local advocate Lynn Lewis.