On Tuesday night, Manhattan Community Board 12 voted in favor of a resolution to disprove much of the Economic Development Corporation’s rezoning plan for Inwood and recommend a long list of changes. 37 board members voted for that resolution, while two members abstained.
They were greeted with cheers, applause and a chant: “El Pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” (The people united will never be defeated!)
While the night ended with a demonstration of community cohesion, elements of the tense and the bizarre were present earlier in the evening: an alleged threat of gun violence, a crowd unable to participate, faulty Spanish translation and a previously unheard of advocacy group that appeared to have little to say publicly about the rezoning except that it opposed a group that opposed the rezoning.
The proposal is the fifth neighborhood rezoning under the de Blasio administration to move through the seven-month public review process known as ULURP through which a rezoning is passed into law. ULURP begins with a non-binding vote by the local community board, followed by a non-binding vote by the Borough President, and then two binding votes by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
Last week, City Limits reported on the resolution approved by the board’s executive committee. The detailed document voiced support for some parts of the project, such as some kind of rezoning and the creation of a Waterfront Access Plan, but called for lowered height restrictions and an expansion of areas where zoning will be used to preserve neighborhood character. It also recommended an emphasis on building housing affordable to local residents, the incorporation of a variety of anti-displacement strategies and neighborhood investments, and a denial of the Inwood library redevelopment project, which the document says should be reviewed separately.
That resolution echoed many of the demands put forth by neighborhood stakeholders in the Uptown United platform.
With some modifications, the full board voted to approve the executive committee’s resolution. (View a draft of those recommendations as they stood on Tuesday morning here. The final draft is still being tweaked and will be submitted later this week.)
“Over the last three years, we’ve engaged the Inwood community to protect and create affordable housing, deliver waterfront open space, and provide new opportunities for residents and small businesses,” wrote Stephanie Báez, a spokesperson for the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), in a statement e-mailed to City Limits. “We sincerely appreciate the Board’s valuable input and commitment, and we will carefully review their recommendations as we continue to advance our number one priority: Ensuring that Inwood remains an affordable and attractive neighborhood for working families.”
Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who spearheaded the rezoning study along with EDC and who will make the ultimate decision on the rezoning’s approval, stayed to listen throughout Tuesday night and said he would continue working with the board throughout ULURP and that he was sure a lot of progress could be made on the rezoning plan by the time the Council votes on the plan.
“The most important thing are those conditions that the Community Board working for so many hours [are] able to produce and present for us,” he said.
He also spoke to the importance of building affordable housing accessible to a range of incomes, from people living on social security income to police officers, and said he wanted to introduce an initiative in Inwood where developers receiving city subsidies must provide a percentage of space in their developments to local businesses at affordable rates. He also intends to reintroduce the long-stalled Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would set up a rent arbitration system to protect small business owners from displacement.
Given the spirit of camaraderie and partnership between community members and the board last week, there a few moments of unexpected—and, at times, frightening—drama on Tuesday night.
About half way through the meeting, chair Shah Ally announced that someone had threatened a board member, saying that “next time they see that board member, they will have a gun,” according to Ally.
“No one has the right to threaten someone else in this meeting. We will inform the cops,” Ally said. “No member of this board should ever be felt to be threatened for their safety … shame on you to do that to an unpaid volunteer.”
Ally told City Limits following the meeting that after making this announcement, he had spotted the woman who had made the threats and informed her to stay and that the police were on their way, at which point she fled. He was not aware of the person’s position on the rezoning.
There were a few other odd things about Tuesday night. The auditorium where the hearing was held could accommodate only 100 members of the public, and so by the time the meeting was supposed to start, there were dozens of people standing outside and unable to gain entry. (District Manager Ebenzer Smith stressed the difficulty of finding a free-of-charge, sizeable space that is also accessible for the disabled.) The first 100 people to show included at least 30 people—they appeared to be people of color and mostly Spanish-speaking—from an unknown group carrying signs that said “I’m N.M.2 100%, New Independent & Fearless, N.M. is not 4 Sale doesn’t represent me.”
The signs appeared to refer to the group Northern Manhattan Is Not 4 Sale, a coalition of residents, community organizations and tenant organizations like the Met Council on Housing that has been a strong critic of the city’s rezoning plan, especially on the grounds that it could result in the displacement of low-income people, and was one of the creators of the Uptown United Platform.
During the session for public speaking, some rezoning critics said it appeared a supporter of the city’s rezoning proposal had rounded up a group of people who knew nothing about the rezoning and brought them to the site early to show support for the rezoning. Rezoning critic Lena Melendez took a gracious approach: “I’d like to welcome all the new faces that I see tonight,” she said in Spanish and English. “I hope that you continue to come and you inform yourself of what the real issues are in this community.”
It wouldn’t be the first time this week that Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale felt itself poked by mysterious forces: Just Monday, the campus manager at George Washington High School cancelled the group’s permit for a community celebration and indoor rally. According to Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale, which had to find a new venue for the event, the group was given no explanation except that the campus manager had received a call from “outside” the building.
But members of the group with signs did not, in fact, speak in support of the rezoning. One member of the group testified that, “I feel that we are not welcome here, but we are going nowhere, we’re going to stay here, this is our community too, we represent Northern Manhattan,” but did not say anything more specific in English. Another member of the group told City Limits she had heard Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale wanted to change the neighborhood and bring in rich people. A member of Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale said she’d spoken with a member of the group and they’d discovered they were on the same side.
Their presence was perhaps also another uncomfortable reminder of the local Latino population’s underrepresentation in the rezoning discussions—and, due to a series of technical difficulties on Tuesday night, much of the meeting went without Spanish translation.
Continued discussion on the recommendations
The board has made a few changes to the recommendations since last week, one spurred by Congressman Adriano Espaillat’s continued advocacy for the city to invest in the creation of 5,000 new affordable housing units in Inwood and Washington Heights. So far, the Congressman has identified 15 sites capable of holding 3,600 apartments. He arranged a tour of some of those sites with Chair Ally, Borough President Gale Brewer, Comptroller Scott Stringer and others on Sunday afternoon, and has been “in near-daily contact with the mayor’s office and city agencies” regarding his proposal, he said in an e-mail to City Limits on Tuesday.
The board’s resolution now encourages the city to review the Congressman’s proposal and “work with the Congressman to refine the proposal into an action plan that can be implemented consistent with the neighborhood planning principles and concerns outlined in this document.”
The board also is likely to add a clause stating its long-held desire for a “State of the Art Economic Development Facility” offering resources, classes, and event space that would support entrepreneurs and jobseekers similar to the de Blasio administration’s proposed Union Square tech hub (ironically, a project that has sparked its own fears of a “Silicon Alley” sprouting up in the West Village). The board also discussed whether or not to take a community member’s recommendation that it alter a sentence to double down on height limits in a certain area of the rezoning. And Vice Chair Richard Lewis hopes to incorporate additional anti-displacement recommendations, such as calling for sustained funding for Anti-Harassment legal services and better enforcement of tenant protections.
In related news, a representative of wholesalers east of 10th Avenue said that, working with the councilmember, they had made progress on a plan to relocate wholesale businesses to a nearby area so their current lots can be redeveloped with housing in the event of a rezoning.
While many members of the public spoke in support of disproving the city’s rezoning, there were also some attendees in favor of liberal rezoning, including a local property owner who argued that the housing crisis would only be resolved by allowing more housing supply. A construction worker from Brooklyn also told City Limits that he stood for more jobs and affordable housing.
Borough President Gale Brewer will host a hearing on the Inwood rezoning at I.S. 218, 4600 Broadway, at 6 pm on Tuesday April 10. Watch a live webcast here. Her office is welcoming written testimony or video testimony of about two-minutes, which can be sent to Inwood@manhattanbp.nyc.gov. Councilmember Rodriguez will be hosting a meeting at which he will present his visions for the rezoning on April 29 at 2:30 p.m., Manhattan Bible Church, 3816 9th Avenue between 204th and 205th Street.