On Monday afternoon, the City Planning Commission certified the de Blasio administration’s proposed neighborhood rezoning of Jerome Avenue in the western Bronx. That kicks-starts the seven-month public review process, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) required to approve or disprove a rezoning.
Jerome Avenue is now one of three neighborhood rezonings currently moving through the ULURP process. A rezoning of downtown Far Rockaway was approved by the City Council’s zoning subcommittee on Monday and a major hearing on the East Harlem rezoning plan will be held by the City Planning Commission this Wednesday. There are also six other neighborhood rezonings that are under study that haven’t yet reached ULURP, and one rezoning (East New York) that was approved last year.
The proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning extends across a 92-block area and generally covers Jerome Avenue from 165th Street to 184th Street (the formerly publicized figure of 73-blocks was an underestimate, according to the Department of City Planning). It would spur residential development in an area that is currently mostly zoned for auto-related business uses, create some income-targeted housing under the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy, and, the city estimates, bring nearly 1,000 permanent new jobs to the area through the creation of new retail and community services. The city has touted a variety of additional city investments and initiatives that accompany the plan relating to housing preservation, economic development, open space and more.
But the launch of public review for the Jerome Avenue rezoning also follows protests held over the weekend by the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision. The coalition, which includes labor, clergy, community and tenant organizations, marched in opposition to the rezoning proposal, which they said has not changed over the past year to address the coalition’s many concerns relating to “worker safety, local hire, apprenticeship, and anti-displacement policy commitments,” according to a press release.
Carmen Vega-Rivera, a CASA New Settlements leader and member of the coalition, says the city has incorporated “not a single principle, not a single demand” from the coalition’s thorough recommendations, with the exception of the city’s new right to counsel for tenants in housing court and the ongoing exploration of a citywide certificate of no harassment program. Vega-Rivera notes that remedies like right to counsel are after-the-fact solutions that addresses tenants already facing displacement pressures—and she believes the rezoning will greatly exacerbate those pressures.
“This is not a neighborhood plan. This is a city plan and there is a big difference between a city plan and a neighborhood plan. This is almost like the city of New York deciding to pull me out of my apartment, fix it, repair it” and give it to someone else, she says, pointing out that the affordable housing required by mandatory inclusionary housing would not be affordable to families making the area’s median income of roughly $25,000.
The Department of City Planning conversely states that they are attuned to the community’s concerns and addressing them.
“With new and preserved affordable housing, economic development opportunities and significant capital investments—including in parks and more walkable streets—the Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan protects and revitalizes existing Bronx neighborhoods, including the tenants of rent-regulated housing, while recognizing the needs of many of the auto-shops that have thrived here for decades,” said DCP director Marisa Lago in a press release.
For every neighborhood rezoning that enters the ULURP process, the city must produce a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), a document describing the potential impacts of the rezoning and the city’s proposed mitigation measures. That document is created according to the city’s environmental review guidelines, known as the City Environmental Quality Review Technical Manual.
In September, the coalition sought to hold the city accountable by demanding that the city go beyond the manual to analyze the project’s potential impacts. In November it released a 68-page document instructing the city how to make that DEIS more thorough. The city does not appear to have adopted this approach. The EIS for Jerome Avenue, released Friday, looks pretty much the same as it usually does. (View the executive summary here.)
The DEIS argues that there won’t be any significant direct or indirect displacement of either residents or businesses. (Direct displacement refers to that caused by the redevelopment of properties, while indirect displacement refers to displacement caused by changing market conditions and rising rents.) It estimates that 18 residents and 77 businesses that provide 584 jobs would be directly displaced, but these are not considered “significant” numbers according to the city’s manual.
As for indirect displacement, the city notes there are about 1,100 units of unprotected housing (housing that is not income-restricted or rent-stabilized) in the Mount Eden area that could be vulnerable to rent increases, but argues that the rezoning will not trigger rent increases because “substantial amount of new residential units that are expected to developed within the rezoning area over the next 10 years would be affordable, and in the foreseeable future would likely be 100 percent affordable” and because the addition of more housing supply will also ease the demand for housing. The report also says there won’t be any significant business displacement.
In one place, the report claims that of the 3,230 apartments that could be created through the rezoning, 2,243 units, or about 70 percent, would be “permanently affordable units.” After inquiries from City Limits, the Department of City Planning acknowledged that the word “permanent” was an error. Only 20 to 30 percent of the housing will be permanently affordable, as required by the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy, but the city argues up to 70 percent affordability could be achieved through the use of subsidies in the area, which currently has a weak market. That would, of course, depend on the market remaining weak over time.
While the manual only requires the city to look at displacement pressures on tenants in unregulated housing stock, the coalition had demanded that the city’s EIS investigate how the rezoning could exacerbate redevelopment and displacement pressures on the area’s rent-stabilized and rent-regulated, housing stock—a concern also raised by commissioner Michelle de La Uz at Monday’s City Planning Commission meeting. It also asked the city to analyze multiple future market scenarios, including a scenario in which the market stays weak and developers build a lot of city-subsidized affordable housing for 15 years, and other scenarios in which the market heats up faster and developers only accept subsidies for five or ten years. These additional investigations do not appear to be included, according to City Limits’ first review of the document.
Multiple other suggestions from the coalition—such as considering the cumulative effects of other rezonings in the Bronx, and listing the exact areas that auto-businesses could relocate to—also do not appear to be included.
The EIS does note, however, that the proposal is expected to exacerbate already severe levels of school overcrowding in certain parts of the area: in District 9 Subdistrict 2, the rezoning would lead to a total deficit of 1,716 elementary school seats and 491 intermediate school seats. The city is considering various mitigation options, including making better use of existing school space or the construction of a new school.
Other adverse impacts that the city expect includes shadowing on sunlight-sensitive resources, traffic and pedestrian congestion, a shortfall of buses, and problems related to construction and noise. Mitigation strategies have been proposed or are under exploration, though some issues will not be mitigated. The rezoning will also exacerbate the existing deficit of childcare slots and open space in the area, but not by percentage increases deemed to be significant by the manual.
The start of ULURP means that Bronx community boards 4 and 5 now have two months to issue a recommendation on the rezoning. The proposal will then be considered by the Bronx borough president’s office, the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Given board members’ past comments, there’s expectation that the community boards will be supportive of the rezoning. The DEIS notes that “Community Board 4 and 5 as well as other interested property owners and affordable housing developers” asked the city to consider expanding the rezoning.
The city does explore this alternative and gives it positive reviews, noting that while it would result in more adverse impacts, like a significant increase in the deficit of child school seats, it would also accomplish many of the same goals as the city’s original plan.