Abigail Savitch-Lew

The City Planning Commission hears a presentation on the Inwood rezoning, January 16, 2017.

On Tuesday afternoon, the City Planning Commission certified the de Blasio administration’s proposed rezoning of Inwood. That means the Inwood rezoning has officially entered the seven-month public review process known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) through which a rezoning is approved or disproved.

At the same time, three neighborhood groups—Inwood Preservation, Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale and Inwood Small Business Coalition—released a joint statement decrying what they argued was a top-down planning process and a rezoning proposal they argue will “result in gentrification and displacement of our majority-Latinx community and immigrant-owned small businesses, will dangerously strain the ancient infrastructure of the neighborhood, and will exacerbate the impacts of development pressures and landlord harassment in targeted areas through a haphazard application of new zoning designations.”

The rezoning, proposed by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), would allow substantial residential and commercial development in areas on and east of 10th Avenue both north and south of the MTA railyard, which are currently zoned for industrial or auto-uses. Certain pockets would fall under an industrial designation: the area where Con Edison’s facilities are located, and an area at the tip of Manhattan where the city intends to encourage job-focused development. The rezoning would also allow a more modest increase in residential density on West 207th Street, Dyckman Street and Broadway. In all upzoned areas, the city would institute mandatory inclusionary housing, which requires that a portion of the units be rent-restricted.

In addition, as requested by many neighborhood stakeholders and elected officials, the surrounding residential area roughly from Thayer Street to West 218 Street would be “contextually rezoned”—subjected to height limits and other restrictions to preserve the neighborhood character. And there are many other components of the proposal too, ranging from various land use actions to improve access to the waterfront, to actions that will facilitate the redevelopment of Inwood library with over 100 units of income-targeted housing, a new library and a Pre-K program.

The city estimates that these changes could lead to the development of 4,348 units of housing, 472,685 square feet of community facility space, 1,135,032 square feet of commercial space, and a decrease of 50,614 square feet of light industrial space.

The proposal is also part of a larger plan for the neighborhood plan that includes investments in neighborhood infrastructure, improvements to waterfront access, economic development initiatives, strategies to prevent displacement and more. For instance, the city is investing in the rehabilitation of three rent stabilized buildings and will create a 15-unit affordable co-op at another city-owned site. The city’s new certificate of no harassment program will also be applied to protect Inwood tenants.

At a presentation to the City Planning Commission, Sarah Ellmore of the Department of City Planning said the plan was a result of a thorough community engagement process that started in 2015. She noted that only 200 units of housing had been developed in Inwood in the past two decades, and that between 2002 and 2014, rents in the area increased at a rate of 38 percent between 2002 and 2014 (much above the city rate of 24 percent). The de Blasio administration believes the limited supply of housing and lack of affordability requirements for new housing in this area increases pressures on the existing housing stock.

Inwood is the fifth neighborhood rezoning sponsored by the de Blasio administration to enter ULURP. East New York, Far Rockaway and East Harlem have already been approved, and Jerome Avenue is moving towards the final stages of the approval process.

The rezonings are part of the administration’s larger plan to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing over 12 years. On Tuesday, the mayor announced that in 2017 the city had financed more affordable homes than ever before in one year, surpassing a record set by former Mayor Ed Koch in 1989. The administration financed 24,536 homes, of which 48 percent were for households making less than $43,000 for a family of three.

Contentious discussion ahead

The three community groups that released the joint statement, which include a mix of tenants, housing advocates, Inwood small businesses, faith groups and other residents, said the plan “does not include meaningful preservation policies” to protect tenants in rent-stabilized housing, that an influx of market-rate units would lead to “hyper-gentrification” that would price out both residents and businesses, and that the “so-called affordable housing proposed will be out of reach for the vast majority of residents.” The groups also intend to release their own alternative plan and asks that “the City should engage meaningfully with the community on creating and implementing an alternative plan that is in the best interest of the community while also planning sustainably for the future.”

The affordable housing created through the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy is not required to target city residents in the lowest income bracket making below $25,770. As the EIS itself states, about a third of Inwood’s population makes less than $25,770.

“The priority needs to be to protect the face of this community, preserve housing, and protect the people who have built their lives, raised their families, and helped this neighborhood thrive to be what it is today,” said Scarlett Jimenez, an Inwood resident and faith community leader, in a press release, while Maggie Clarke of Inwood Preservation emphasized her concerns about the infrastructure impacts of adding much larger taller buildings to the neighborhood.

“Our plan calls for zoning protections of existing, largely rent-stabilized apartment buildings, rezoning to allow for some mixed use residential in underutilized industrial zones that would allow for a sustainable increase in apartments in Inwood, and zoning of commercial areas to allow for limited increases for commercial space, while retaining our small businesses,” wrote Clarke.

David Friend of Fort Tyron East Neighborhood Association also called for the extension of the contextual zoning farther south.

Over the coming months, Manhattan Community Board 12, followed by Borough President Gale Brewer, will give non-binding recommendations on the proposal. The City Planning Commission will then vote on the proposal and, assuming a vote in the affirmative, the City Council will then cast the ultimate vote. The City Council has a practice of giving deference to the local councilmember of the rezoning area, which in this case is Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez.

Given that Rodriguez invited the rezoning study and has been an equal partner in the spearheading of the rezoning, it seems likely he’ll want to move something forward. The question is what, and in what ways community feedback will shape that proposal.

Environmental analysis says no significant displacement

The city also released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement detailing the potential impacts of the rezoning. See the executive summary here and access all the chapters here.

According to the DEIS, there will be no “direct residential displacement,” or resident displacement due to demolition and redevelopment. The city has identified 33 sites most likely to be redeveloped and says none of these sites contain apartments. The city also concludes there will not be any significant adverse impacts on direct business displacement.

Those 33 sites do contain 26 businesses, however, providing jobs for 271 workers in the fields of food service, health care, transportation, and warehousing and accounting for three percent of total employment in the half-mile area. Those 26 businesses include two large supermarkets: Super Associated Marketplace and Compare Foods. But according to the EIS, new development generated by the rezoning will include two supermarkets that will be comparable or larger in size to Super Associated Marketplace.

As for the other 24 businesses, the EIS says that while they are “valuable individually and
collectively to the City’s economy…the directly displaced businesses do not provide products or services essential to the local economy that would no longer be available in the trade area due to the difficulty of either relocating or establishing a new, comparable business” and that “it is expected that the potentially directly displaced businesses would be able to find comparable space within the secondary study area or elsewhere in the borough or City.”

The EIS further states that there isn’t a potential for significant “indirect” residential displacement—that is, displacement caused by a changing market and rising rents. It notes that 83 percent of the rental housing in the area is rent-regulated or subsidized. Many of the apartments in the remaining 17 percent, it says, are likely formerly rent-regulated. The law allows deregulation when an apartment’s rent is $2,700 or more and the tenant’s total household income exceeds $200,000. “Therefore, these unprotected apartments are likely priced at the higher end of the market and are expected to be occupied by tenants that would not be considered a vulnerable population pursuant to CEQR,” the EIS states.

The EIS then continues to argue that “Nonetheless, any at-risk households in the neighborhood may already be experiencing rent pressures,” making it unclear whether the EIS considers tenants of rent-stabilized housing to be at-risk of displacement. Furthermore, the EIS states that the rezoning will create new income-targeted housing, that increasing the housing stock overall will help to relieve pressures on the housing market, and that the city is also making “proactive” efforts to preserve the affordable housing stock, so there would be no adverse significant indirect displacement.

The EIS recognizes there will be “some limited indirect business displacement, but says it will be nothing significant. According to the EIS, the mandatory inclusionary housing policy will ensure a range of incomes in the neighborhood capable of supporting a variety of different types of retail businesses, the increased population may result in more local demand for services, and the rezoning may “stabilize the retail market by increasing the supply of available retail space.”

While it notes that wholesale, warehousing, light-industrial and automotive businesses on and east of 10th avenue are “most vulnerable to indirect business displacement” it says that the displacement is not considered significant because such businesses “are not of substantial economic value to the City, in terms of importance to the City’s overall economic activity; they can be relocated elsewhere in the City; they are not subject to regulations or publicly adopted plans to preserve, enhance, or protect them; and they are not a defining element of neighborhood character.” Furthermore, the area east of 10th avenue is already trending away from industrial uses, it argues.

The EIS projects there will be no significant adverse impacts due to overcrowding on schools, child care and libraries. While the Inwood library will be temporarily demolished during redevelopment, the city says it will provide a temporary library that “would continue to operate under existing hours and would offer all existing core services, including circulation of materials, computer appointments, readers’ advisory, and reference. NYPL would continue with as much current programming as possible by partnering with local community‐based organizations and schools.”

The EIS does acknowledge impacts on open space, shadows, historic and cultural resources, traffic, pedestrian movement, transit, construction. For instance, it was found that there would be a significant reduction of open space ratio for residents living in the Sherman Creek subdistrict. The city says there are limited opportunities for new parks in that area, but commits to exploring possible mitigation strategies.

The city’s environmental review methods have been subject to much criticism. In particular, critics note that the city’s methods assume residents of rent-stabilized housing will not be vulnerable to increased real estate pressure. During the City Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Michelle De La Uz asked for an analysis of the location of rent-stabilized buildings in the upzoning areas and whether they are non-profit or for-profit owned, while Commissioner Anna Levin said, “It looks to me like we have to think about small business displacement in addition to rent stabilized building displacement.” She also wanted to know whether local residents are “facing double displacement pressures with jobs and housing.”

Commissioner Cheryl Cohen Effron asked for information about how the neighborhood had seen such a significant rent increase, while Larisa Ortiz suggested analyzing demand to determine whether the area east of 10th avenue could sustain retail, among other comments.