Adi Talwar

Jerome Avenue, which runs underneath the elevated rail in the western Bronx, is the next neighborhood rezoning moving towards a vote.

It’s nearing four years since the de Blasio administration announced its housing plan and intention to rezone 15 neighborhoods. Since then, East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway and East Harlem have been rezoned, the Flushing rezoning has been withdrawn, and six other studies have gotten underway. We’ve also been following two rezoning efforts lead by community groups where the de Blasio administration has been involved: Bushwick and Chinatown. While the list has never reached the 15 sites that were anticipated, the efforts so far amount to a dozen rezonings tracked at City Limits’ site Zone In.

Under the de Blasio administration’s mandatory inclusionary housing rule approved by City Council in March of 2016, every neighborhood upzoning requires that developers building in the area provide a percentage of housing at “affordable” rates, with rent levels defined according to a suite of options.  The city says additional affordable housing can also be created with city subsidy. Yet whether the housing these rezonings create is affordable enough, and whether an upzoning could actually drive speculation and gentrification that detract from affordability, continue to be matters of intense debate.

At the same time, this year the City Council passed a number of laws to protect tenants from displacement and harassment, and the de Blasio administration included new anti-displacement strategies in its Housing 2.0 plan. These constitute notable victories for tenant advocates, though some would argue that these measures are still insufficient to address the problems with upzonings.

Here’s an alphabetical rundown of where each rezoning stands and what to expect from the coming year.

Bay Street – This rezoning in northern Staten Island has been mysteriously delayed. In May 2016, the city released the Draft Scope of Work, a document describing the methods that will be used to conduct the legally required environmental impact assessment. The city has repeatedly pushed back its estimated timeline for releasing an Environmental Impact Statement and starting ULURP (or Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure, the seven-month approval process through which a rezoning is approved or disproved). The Department of City Planning tells City Limits that an update will be provided in early 2018.

The possible rezoning came up in the local City Council election, with challengers to incumbent Debi Rose saying the affordable units generated by any rezoning should be targeted to moderate-income rather than low-income households. (Rose, who prefers low-income units, prevailed in the election.) Advocates with the Staten Island Housing Dignity coalition, on the contrary, say residents are already facing displacement pressures and that the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy does not demand enough low-income housing from property owners of the industrial land that will receive the benefit of a substantial residential upzoning. They are also concerned about losing full say over what happens to public parcels of land in the area.

Bushwick – In 2014, in response to the community board’s concerns about out-of-context development, local councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal launched a community planning process. That lead to the creation of a steering committee (composed of anyone who cared to join) and working groups that are spearheading the creation of a comprehensive plan. As in many areas, residents are grappling with whether it’s possible to allow upzonings in some areas in order to trigger mandatory inclusionary housing without furthering the gentrification of the neighborhood.

The effort has moved slowly and carefully, with input from agency officials. The steering committee is currently in the process of voting on recommendations, and hopes to have finished a comprehensive report by the summer. The goal, says Make the Road organizer Jose Lopez, a participant in the process, is that if and when the city releases a rezoning plan for Bushwick, “it almost matches what has been put out in the Bushwick community plan.”

Chinatown – At the beginning of de Blasio’s term, a coalition of stakeholders called the Chinatown Working Group came up with a rezoning plan for all of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The Department of City Planning deemed the plan too comprehensive and anti-growth. In September 2016, with local councilmember Margaret Chin’s blessing, the Department of City Planning agreed to work with Community Board 3 to study a smaller area—just “Chinatown,” the borders of which were never defined—for a potential rezoning. Though some members of the community objected to the narrower focus, the community board agreed to the study. No efforts have since been made on this study, however, with everyone’s attention turned instead to the battle against the four skyscrapers proposed for the Two Bridges waterfront.

The developers in Two Bridges are in the process of completing an environmental impact assessment of the four skyscrapers; they declined to comment to City Limits about when they expect to finish that review. Meanwhile, several efforts are underway to try to block the towers, from a threatened lawsuit, to efforts by local officials to apply for a zoning change that will guarantee the projects must go through ULURP, to efforts by one group to convince the City Planning Commission that the projects are illegal under existing rules. Last but not least, a coalition of neighborhood advocates is trying to apply for a rezoning of the area to institute height limits and higher affordability restrictions before the towers can be built. Community Board 3 has agreed to be a co-applicant on that application and the advocates are currently seeking support from other elected officials.

Downtown Far Rockaway – The rezoning, along with a package of city investments, was approved by the Council on September 7. It included a rezoning of a public lot where 100 percent income-targeted housing will be built; the city is expected to select a developer soon. The rezoning also encompasses some privately owned land and a large, abandoned area owned by the late landlord Rita Stark. In September, the de Blasio administration professed it would aim to facilitate the redevelopment of Stark’s property with 100 percent income-targeted housing and community retail and facilities, though it’s not a steadfast commitment due to the ongoing negotiations over the property ownership.

Jordan Gibbons, a spokesperson for Councilmember Donovan Richards, says that the rezoning has definitely drummed up real-estate interest in the area. In the new year we’ll be watching to see whether any development gets rolling, and to what extent that new development targets low-income families.

East Harlem – A revised version of the East Harlem rezoning and accompanying investments were approved by the City Council on November 30. It’s the first time a rezoning was approved with a certificate of no harassment pilot program, which will require landlords seeking to demolish buildings to prove they have not harassed tenants. (All subsequent rezonings and prior De Blasio rezonings will also now be included in the certificate of no harassment pilot program. The program expires after 36 months, and HPD is required to submit a report on the effectiveness of the program so that City Council can determine whether to renew or expand it.) It also was the first time a rezoning plan included funding for NYCHA repairs—though not as much as advocates had asked for. Critics still object that the rezoning will greatly exacerbate gentrification and that the affordable housing will not be truly affordable for families making the lowest incomes.

In the new year, we’ll be watching to see what development projects arise as a result of the rezoning and how councilmember-elect Diana Ayala implements the ongoing goals and strategies of the larger community plan spearheaded by her predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito. We’ll also be watching the growth of the East Harlem community land trust, which now has city financial backing.

East New York – Since the passage of the East New York rezoning in April 2016, the neighborhood has begun to see the planning and development of several large income-targeted housing developments. While it’s not entirely clear just how soon the neighborhood will see new market-rate development, housing prices are on the rise and some property owners along the avenues are applying for permits for redevelopment. Meanwhile, local advocates have been organizing for additional anti-displacement measures such as the creation of a “Cease and Desist” zone restricting home-buying offers, as well as working to ensure the city remains accountable to its promises. Bill Wilkins of the Local Development Corporation of East New York says, for instance, that he raised objections when he learned that, as part a plan to revamp an existing industrial business incubator, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) intended to require the businesses in the incubator to reapply competitively for their spots. Wilkins says that after bringing the mayor’s attention to the issue at a recent town hall, EDC is now working with the LDC to ensure those businesses are not displaced during the renovation process.

The city is now studying the potential to redevelop Broadway Junction, East New York’s major transit hub. After advocates expressed concerns that they were being left out of the envisioning process, the administration invited stakeholders to participate in a planning group chaired by Borough President Eric Adams and Espinal.

Flushing – It’s the only rezoning to have been withdrawn (in June 2016), and it’s not entirely clear how the cancellation of the rezoning has affected Flushing’s already hot real estate market. Some, but not all, of the anti-displacement strategies applied to other rezoning neighborhoods are being funded here. The city released a study in September that provides a vision for the redevelopment of the Flushing Creek waterfront that landlords can undertake voluntarily, so it’s still possible that some further redevelopment may still occur in this area in the future.

As City Limits reported in November, while advocates did have concerns about the original rezoning proposal, they have also been concerned about the fact that development is surging without enough housing that targets low-income families. Councilmember Koo says the Council is funding a Regional Plan Association study on the neighborhood’s infrastructure needs and that he is potentially interested at looking at other parts of the district for rezoning.

Gowanus – From 2013 to 2015, Gowanus residents and stakeholders participated in “Bridging Gowanus,” a community planning process spearheaded by councilmember Brad Lander, at which they discussed the merits of allowing more development. At Lander’s invitation, the de Blasio administration then agreed to study the area for a potential rezoning. In September, the Department of City Planning released a list of recommendations synthesized from comments made by local stakeholders at working group meetings and categorized according to whether the city supported or disagreed. The department is now expected to release a more precise planning framework for the neighborhood—the agency was not clear about exactly when—followed by more community engagement. Some stakeholder recommendations have become reality in recent months, including the creation of a certificate of no harassment pilot program, the passage of zoning restrictions requiring special permits for self-storage facilities in certain industrial areas, and a commitment from the administration to reopening the Gowanus Houses community center.

Meanwhile, a warehouse property in Gowanus that is expected to be rezoned just traded hands for the price of $26.5 million. And a project related to the canal’s clean-up is currently moving through ULURP: the city’s proposal to site a sewage retention tank on private property near the canal’s blanks instead of disrupt a local park.

Inwood – A September hearing on the city’s Draft Scope of Work for the proposed rezoning brought out intense divisions in the community. The city is expected to release its Environmental Impact Statement and the rezoning proposal is expected to enter the ULURP process on January 16, after which Community Board 12 will deliberate and offer a recommendation on the proposal.

A coalition of stakeholders called Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale is in the process of completing a white paper that will spell out their own vision for the area and key demands, and plans to hold an action when ULURP begins. Community Board 12 has not yet taken a public position on the rezoning but recently adopted resolutions calling for citywide efforts to protect “unobstructed access to sunlight on rooftops as a vital resource for the generation of renewable energy” and another in support of using community land trusts to develop affordable housing on public parcels of land in the neighborhood.

Jerome – This rezoning is in the middle of the ULURP process. Bronx community boards 4, 5 and 7, as well as Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, have voted to approve the rezoning on condition that the city make several changes to the plan and guarantee additional investments. At a recent City Planning Commission hearing, however, residents expressed strong reservations about the plan’s potential to exacerbate displacement of existing residents and businesses.

The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the plan on January 17, and assuming it’s approved, the City Council will then enter negotiations with the de Blasio administration on the final deal. Local councilmember Vanessa Gibson, who with councilmember Fernando Cabrera will have the ultimate say on the proposal, said at the hearing that the plan cannot move forward without “community support” but she has also said that she believes the neighborhood should seize the opportunity for investment. In the new year, we’ll be watching to see whether the City Planning Commission and Gibson push for the preservation of more auto-land, whether the city designates a site for a new school, and what Gibson does to address concerns about affordability.

Long Island City – A rezoning plan is expected, but its exact outline has not yet been officially proposed. Over the summer, the Department of City Planning held a series of workshops to gather feedback from residents on a variety of topics. The agency says it expects to have further engagement with residents but has not yet scheduled additional meetings. Meanwhile, the Justice for All Coalition, including residents of the area’s public housing developments and other groups, have been pushing for a series of demands including a value-capture mechanism to redirect profit to NYCHA and a commitment to ensure public land is developed by non-profit developers, among others.

In addition to the potential rezoning, there are a number of projects being studied or planned simultaneously. The city is considering the potential for development above the Sunnyside Yards railroad track and has selected TF Cornerstone to build a 75 percent market-rate mixed-use project on public land near Anabel Basin. A local developer has made a bid to develop more of that area with another 75 percent market rate project. And there’s the proposed BQX Streetcar (though some say the project is unlikely to move forward), among other projects.

Southern Boulevard – No rezoning has yet been proposed. Over the past year there have been small meetings between city agency staff and local stakeholders, as well as community outreach at summer events, to discuss the neighborhood’s needs. There’s also been meetings to discuss the state’s plan for the decommissioning of the nearby Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard. The details of that state plan could actually have real implications for what a potential rezoning looks like and how much public land is available for redevelopment.

City Planning has continually delayed its first public meeting open to the press. The agency says it is working on crafting a timeline of public events for 2018 at which stakeholders will craft goals and recommendations for the area.

3 thoughts on “A New Year’s Update on the de Blasio Rezonings

  1. Your article about Downtown Far Rockaway is made up out of whole cloth.

    The rezoning area contains no “abandoned” area. It includes the only sizeable parking area in the Far Rockaway business district. And anyone who has two cents to spend drives from Bayswater, Reads Lane, or “West Lawrence.” The Economic Development Corporation told the community that roughly half of the apartments would be market rate, but once they got the area rezoned, they now says “just kidding” all of the apartments will be below market rate.

    Will these below market rate tenants have the income needed to revitalize the shopping district?

    And, if they do have the income, why would anyone suppose that they will shop in Far Rockaway when no one else in the area does? Why would market rate tenants in downtown not do what virtually all other market rate people in the area do and shop in the Five Towns of Nassau County?

    Even more absurd, in an area where the typical family has 2+ cars, the new buildings will only have 0.85 or fewer parking spaces per apartment. The end result will be that there will be even fewer parking spaces available for shoppers.

    Finally, the city supposes that shoppers will pay for underground parking where (1) safety is an issue and the police say that their cars are not safe in the city lot (that will be sold) and (2) there is free or low cost parking in the Five Towns. And Lawrence and Cedarhurst parking courts are nothing like the NYC Parking Violations Bureau.

    The $288 million dollars committed to this project could have done much more for the Rockaway community and Queens if Mayor de Blasio had used it to reactivate the old Rockaway Beach Branch of the LIRR as a subway link. It would reduce travel time to midtown Manhattan from 1.5+ hours to under an hour. And it would provide a half hour trip from JFK or the Resorts World casino to midtown. See http://www.QueensRail.org for more information on the better way to spend the money.

    But the EDC’s plans are not about helping people.

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