Councilmember at Center of Inwood Rezoning Process Says Negotiations Continue

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William Alatriste for the New York City Council

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, seen here in the Council chambers in 2014, says he began talking about making changes to Inwood during the Bloomberg administration, but found a more receptive audience in Mayor de Blasio.

 

Less than two weeks before the City Council vote on the Inwood rezoning proposal, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez is negotiating the last pieces of the plan with the de Blasio administration.

Earlier this month, over a hundred Inwood residents, elected officials, stakeholders and city agencies expressed their opposition or support for the rezoning proposal during the City Council public hearing while City Council subcommittee on zoning and franchises chairman and Councilman Francisco Moya and Councilman Rodriguez listened on.

The NYC Economic Development Corporation’s proposal, shepherded by Rodriguez, is the fifth neighborhood rezoning sponsored by the de Blasio administration to move through the ULURP process by which a rezoning is approved, amended or rejected. The City Planning Commission voted in favor of the city’s Inwood rezoning proposal in June. The final step in the ULURP process is the vote by the City Council.

The rezoning proposal has taken shape over the last three years but it has been in the works for much longer, according to Rodriguez.

In 2011, a city study of Sherman Creek—an area in Inwood—was part a larger plan led by Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for a long-term sustainable blueprint for New York City’s 520 waterfront and waterways. That blueprint, produced in partnership with NYCEDC, included long-term goals for the next decade and set 130 priority projects to be implemented within three years.

Rodriguez said the waterfront development plan did not include any rezoning efforts for the Inwood area. Conditions in some buildings were deteriorating badly: After a January 2011 blizzard, at one local building, “The ceiling had almost collapsed and the tenants had to be relocated for two years. A city inspection at the site revealed over 1,000 code violations on 72 units. According to the city records, residents including seniors were living without gas, water or heat in their apartments. Rodriguez said fighting to redevelop that building—”I got $25-28 million to build a new building, 100 percent affordable,” he recalled—paved the way to a rezoning.

Rodriguez said his push for rezoning Inwood became even more harder after Mayor de Blasio became into office.

“Then when the mayor got elected, I met with the mayor and we started this process of community engagement to hear from the community. That started three years ago,” he said. “We got some community meetings, we met with different sectors, with tenants, with local small businesses, with community-based organizations. We opened the meetings to anyone.”

A neighborhood study and framework was eventually followed by the NYCEDC rezoning proposal. “I have been clear that my vision will focus on economic development around technology, health, and I want to make it a Latino food destination. Those are my three visions for economic development,” he said.

“My plan, my vision, is to bring development to Inwood and Washington Heights that focuses on building affordable housing, home preservation but to also understand that we have to be there for the mom-and-pop stores. So that is how we started this conversation by presenting those ideas on Inwood and presenting our 2030 year plan for Inwood,” he said. “Making it home for people living there for decades especially working class New Yorkers who should get apartments based on the local median income — which in our community is $36,000 — but also to build apartments for other income brackets.”

The rezoning would include an 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. Additionally, 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. Areas where Con Edison facilities are located and the tip of Manhattan, where the city intends to encourage job-focused development, will be designated as industrial. Other components of the proposal range from various land use actions, improving waterfront access and the redevelopment of Inwood library with over 100 units of income-targeted housing above the new library and a Pre-K program. The city’s new certificate of no harassment program will also be applied to protect Inwood tenants.

Much of the discussion about the rezoning focuses on the Commercial “U,” which comprises the blocks along Dyckman Street between approximately Nagle Avenue and Broadway, Broadway between Thayer and West 207th Streets, and West 207th Street between Broadway and Tenth Avenue. The area is generally characterized by one- to two-story commercial and community facility uses, with some multi-story housing with ground floor retail and other commercial uses. The NYCEDC proposal recommends that the area be upzoned to add more density and argued that the current zoning in the area did not have a any restrictions.

According to city estimates, the zoning changes writ large 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.

Earlier in the year, the city released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement detailing the potential impacts of the Inwood rezoning. According to the DEIS, there will be no “direct residential displacement,” or resident displacement due to demolition and redevelopment.The city identified 33 sites most likely to be redeveloped and says none of these sites contain apartments. Those sites contain 26 businesses 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, including two large supermarkets could be affected by “indirect displacement.”

The EIS did not detect a potential for significant “indirect” residential displacement caused by a changing market and rising rents. It noted that 83 percent of the rental housing in the area is rent-regulated or subsidized. The EIS did acknowledge impacts on library services, open space, shadows, historic and cultural resources, traffic, pedestrian movement, transit, construction.

When asked if he accepted the EIS’s low estimates of potential displacement, Rodriguez said, “I believe that it is not necessarily 100 percent accurate based on what is the reality of our community. However it produces some information that is valid. They did the work and they took the time to do the research, they put the findings on the table.”

In February, Inwood community groups—including Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale, Inwood Preservation, Inwood Small Business Coalition and Save Inwood Library—and residents proposed their own plan, the Uptown United Platform, to address what they see as flaws in the rezoning proposal. The community proposal focused on more affordable housing, protecting small business, anti-gentrification efforts, and traffic congestion; it also proposed a separate land-use review process for the library.

The Uptown United platform members said they had met with Rodriguez a few times over the last couple of months to discuss the rezoning proposals in hopes of seeing some their proposed ideas come to fruition.

“We looked again at the points he released last week, and still there is no concrete response to the changes we sought to the plan. Nothing that even has to do with the rezoning itself, let alone our demands. In short, there is nothing of substance that would sway us, the community,” said Nova Lucero, community organizer with Met Housing Council and Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale. “There are no offers to scale back the rezoning and no new information about deeper levels of affordability or increased percentages.”

Manhattan Community Board 12 and Borough President Gale Brewer have said no to the current plan while calling for changes.

Rodriguez said he understood the Inwood community’s concerns about displacement caused by rezoning. He says his belief is that rezoning is not the only cause of displacement — he also places the blame on bad housing policies that have been implemented for decades.

“It is important to make the connection with history about what happened in the past and we did not get here overnight. We are not closing business because of the rezoning, tenants are not being pushed out because of the rezoning. We have been losing tenants for the last 15 years because we have bad policy when it comes to protecting our tenants,” Rodriguez said.

Another concern raised about the rezoning is whether the area’s infrastructure is robust enough to absorb thousands of additional residents. Rodriguez said there are two phases to the rezoning plan and he believes there is enough time in between each phase to improve the infrastructure. In the first phase of the plan three residential sites will be developed along with the library building site. According to Rodriguez, there are plans to improve transit in the area including upgrades to the A train signal system; adding ADA compliant improvements to the 207th Street subway station; changing the M12 Select Bus Service to Bus Rapid Transit; improvements to the University Heights Bridge from 207th street that leads into the Bronx and connecting Inwood to additional subway train routes such as the 4, 2 and D trains as well as the Metro North in the Bronx.

Rodriguez also added that the waterfront access highlighted in the plan will be public and he plans on allocating $5 million to $7 million to build a new pier near La Marina for recreation, as well as to improve access for farmers from Hudson Valley to come with fresh produce for markets in the park.

“I feel that the infrastructure needs to get immediate investment to be upgraded for the first couple of hundred of residents for the first few sites that are included in the rezoning,” he said.

Rodriguez would not specify which parts of the rezoning were still being negotiated with the city but said he was looking at all options—especially those pertaining to the Commercial U.

When pressed about why the library residential development did not go through its own ULURP process, Rodriguez said, “Right now, I can only talk about what we have right now. This is a very ambitious, comprehensive proposal.”

Despite there being vocal opposition from the Inwood community and stakeholders, Rodriguez said his experience as a grassroots community organizer allows him to sympathize with the concerns of his constituents.

“I have been involved in civil disobedience and I have been voicing my opinion in many fights. When I see anyone with a lot of energy now voicing their opinion for a good rezoning — I respect them,” Rodriguez said. “At the end of the day, what I can tell my community is that I have been listening to them. They should know that I will only be voting for a rezoning if this rezoning allows a turn for the better for our working class community.”

“I have not done a single rezoning in my nine years at City Council—not because there was no lack of interests or proposal on top of my desk,” he said. Asked about the concerns that previous rezonings, like the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning on Williamsburg, have raised, he added: “I am learning from the previous rezonings to see what didn’t work so that I can avoid it as much as possible and to take the good things from those rezonings and see what I can get out of it.”

“I am clear,” Rodriguez continued, “that I would only do a rezoning if we are able to build a community where [the] working class can live with dignity.”

8 thoughts on “Councilmember at Center of Inwood Rezoning Process Says Negotiations Continue

  1. While I’m sure the Councilmember means well, much of what he said requires fact checking:

    – Sherman Creek was about the waterfront, not rezoning the adjacent areas, that is true.
    However, the rezoning plan now proposed is far inferior to Sherman Creek. There is NO public connection along the industrial ConEd lands by Academy St that are outside the rezoning (the rendering used on the EDC website is a farce it’s of a walkway that will never exist!). There is NO public connection around the MTA yards. The skinny 40 ft wide public corridors that will come with each parcel as it is developed will lead from nowhere to nowhere, since only a few parcels are projected to be developed in the next 15 years. So the rezoning really doesn’t provide any kind of meaningful waterfront access.

    – The claim that there was “community engagement” is a sham. Propaganda and issuing a pre-determined plan does not count as community engagement. The various meetings and workshops that were held were entirely one-way, with no ability for input to form a plan different than what the city wanted to propose. They were staged precisely so that an official could sit with a reporter two or three years later and say that they were held, so all is good right?. And while the meetings were “opened to anyone”, that was only after the initial lists of participants prepared by the CM revealed that no actual residents were invited.

    – It may be the vision to “be there for the mom-and-pop stores” but the reality is that the rezoning literally introduces new use groups (8, 10, 12, etc.) that will allow for things like hotels, big box stores and nightclubs in retail corridors that are now mostly mom-and-pop.
    Saying something is not the same thing as doing it.

    – Local median income has nothing to do with a rezoning, which creates mandatory options for affordable housing based on the overall area median income. The 40% AMI option, which is about $32,000 for a family of four — can never be forced. The lowest income bracket that can be required under MIH is 60% AMI (about $49,000), and there is nothing a single councilmember can do about that. It’s the law.

    – The rezoning increases residential density in all of Inwood, even the new “contextual” parts.
    They only get upzoned 11%, while the rest of the neighborhood gets upzoned up to 209% more dense than what is residential density in Inwood today. That’s massive.

    – Other cities in North America, including New York, have rebuilt libraries as mixed-use projects. That’s nothing new. What’s bizarre here is the simultaneous upzoning of the library site to 14 stories, creating a 145 ft tall blank wall facing north and south on Broadway for years to come. There was no legitimate reason for upzoning this site instead of redeveloping it within the current zoning envelope or one of similar density, exactly as the city did for the Sunset Park library. It’s a farce, and quite illegal as a spot zoning, which is why it got unceremoniously bundled into the EDC rezoning.

    – The argument that the current zoning in the Commercial U did not have any restrictions is ridiculous spin. It’s like me giving you $5 to go buy whatever you want and then complaining there is nothing stopping you from wasting it on a diamond ring. YOU CAN’T BUY A DIAMOND RING FOR $5. Just as you can’t build a 15-story building on a small site on Broadway or on 207 if you only have 3.44 residential FAR to play with. It’s not going to happen. What would happen is something like The Stack, which ended up being very contextual to its much older neighbors because that’s what made economic sense. And like The Stack, any new development would probably pursue 421a (again, economics) meaning it would have 25% affordable units. The city and certain land owners want office buildings, hotels, big boxes and much larger buildings in the Commercial U and they are spinning like tops trying to ram it through. Don’t fall for it. No one ever asked for the Commercial U to be touched and it shouldn’t be — there are already thousands of new units in the works in the lands to the east. The U can take care of itself under R7A zoning.

    – The city estimates are only about 25% to 30% of the capacity the rezoning unleashes. It could be many thousands more apartments and millions more SF commercial space. Look how wrong the city was in the Long Island City rezoning (predicted: 300 apartments in 15 years. Actual: 10,000 new apartments). Of course it is going to displace many existing residents and businesses. This is why people are asking not for the rezoning to be canceled, but to be scaled back, smartly and reasonably.

    – The infrastructure “improvements” mentioned, several of which are nonsensical, do nothing to change the fact that you have 40,000 people living in a dense environment (far more dense than whole swaths of the UWS or West Village) in an isolated part of the street grid, bounded by river crossings, who are now expected to accommodate 14,000 to 40,000 additional residents. An ADA elevator at 207th St does not address the problem.

    – There are NOT two phases to the rezoning. Once passed, that’s it. The zoning map changes and every single property owner can now build to the new limits. Some may not change for years, some never, but there is no phasing to it. Every single property could file building permits the next day if they wanted to.

    – There is an existing pier at the western end of Dyckman. Wasting $7M on a new one is the dumbest thing I’ve heard yet. How about a new park, or police station, or school, or community center, since the rezoning has NONE of those? Why duplicate a pier that already exists?

    – “Rodriguez would not specify which parts of the rezoning were still being negotiated with the city but said he was looking at all options—especially those pertaining to the Commercial U.” After three years of giving constant input and suggestions and being stonewalled, it might be nice if the people who live in the neighborhood were involved in these closed door meetings. While the council member has been “listening”, he certainly has not been acting on that input.

    – “I have not done a single rezoning in my nine years at City Council—not because there was no lack of interests or proposal on top of my desk”. This “I have not done any rezoning ” claim gets stated a lot without any backup details. But even if true, no, you haven’t done them because rezonings are complicated legal changes that have massive financial impact and are not handed out like candy. Zoning designations tend to last at least a couple decades, they are not supposed to change on a whim. Plus, spot rezonings are illegal.

    – “I am learning from the previous rezonings to see what didn’t work so that I can avoid it as much as possible and to take the good things from those rezonings and see what I can get out of it.” Confusing statement, since this is pretty much the opposite of what is actually happening. Please, name what it is that you think did not work in other rezonings, and what you think did?

    The city can come up with a better plan. Interviews like this show that instead of doing it is just selling spin instead. Shame.

  2. Rodriguez’ arguments don’t make sense. A building’s ceiling or roof is in need of repair so the solution is to tear the building down and build something 3 or 4 times the size? Repair is always the best method. Better for the environment, promotes neighborhood stability. Maintenance is a good thing too. He says the right words “affordable housing” “preservation”. But they are hollow. Affordable for whom? At all costs? There are thousands of code violations all over Inwood. Do residents know what code violations are and how to report them? No. He can’t just say that all Inwoodites know what is happening in this rezoning. They don’t. What is he actually doing to ensure that landlords properly maintain their buildings? Is Inwood disposable? Just tear things down and building huge structures in their place? Is development always better? Will what we get with rezoning better? Is rezoning the ONLY way to accomplish all his goals? My answer is definitely not.
    He talks about bad housing policy. That’s largely controlled by the state (Vacancy decontrol, how MCIs are misused, etc) Fixing that will not be accomplished with upzoning. You write down that he likes mom and pops. But the rezoning will kill a large number of mom and pop stores that he says he likes since they are in 1-2 story buildings that will be upzoned to 11-30 stories. Please ask how he can like Mom and Pop stores when the rezoning will kill them? New pier and fresh produce can be obtained without massive upzoning. Overdue upgrade of our 100 year old underground infrastructure can be done independently of upzoning. City Limits has written about other upzonings where schools weren’t built and infrastructure wasn’t upgraded. Why wouldn’t that happen here? Why is he dodging answering your question about separate ULURP for the library? What’s THAT all about? Many of us are suspicious.

    When you interview him, we hope you can ask even more probing questions. The public really needs to push back on his ideas when they make no sense. He needs to be held ACCOUNTABLE. He says he has talked to everybody and that may be true. I wish you would ask him more specifics about the environmental impacts, traffic, transit, canyons and darkness, infrastructure, displacement of businesses and residents, and what all of this together will really mean for those who manage to stay in Inwood. We can help formulate those. My guess is he has purposely turned a blind eye to all of these things, as I have earnestly tried to explain these to him, in person, more than once, but he doesn’t focus and won’t respond. Ask him what he knows about the dire predictions of overcapacity traffic congestion at over 40 Inwood intersections in the City’s Environmental Impact Statement.

    The only remedy for all the huge impacts to Inwood is to scale Waaaay back on the upzoning.

    There’s no other solution. Even the EIS says so. Timing of lights won’t help. You can’t widen the streets. And the traffic study they used for the EIS did not include the recent amendment adding nightclubs, big box stores, and destination retail, so it low-balls the impacts. It didn’t study Inwood’s peak traffic times. And many of the things he wants (like a waterfront greenway) can be done without upzoning. Does he know about these things? Why not ask about that? Why does he seem chained to MIH? That program’s purpose was to integrate wealthy neighborhoods and is misused here. Using MIH to get affordable housing is ass-backwards. 80% of the housing will be luxury. Why not scrap this and work with the new community land trust to get contextual buildings that are 100% affordable? You don’t need to destroy a well-functioning, recently renovated library to site a pre-K in Inwood! Does Inwood need to become another version of mid-town? No it does not! I wish he could have the vision to understand what adding dozens of 10-30 story buildings does to a 1-7 story neighborhood. I wish he could see that Inwood’s street layout is unlike most other places, surrounded by water and park, only one through street, almost every street easy to block and create gridlock since most have one travel lane. Dead-end streets everywhere. Has he seen the gridlock that one nightclub, La Marina, has frequently caused, for a large part of Inwood.

    Inwood is a neighborhood where the residents have a close tie with the environment, with parks, with water, with sky. Throwing this all out in an upzoning is unconscionable. Affordable housing at all costs? No.

    I will look forward to seeing you as a reporter ask more such questions. Notice how national reporters are pushing back on Trump’s stupid ideas, flip flops, calling out lies, ignorance, etc. You must also. The public is depending on you.

  3. Councilmember Rodriguez continues to refuse to acknowledge the perfectly obvious: displacement of working class communities is directly related to the scale of market rate unit construction. While he is correct to point out that gentrification didn’t suddenly start to happen once the city started talking about rezoning, he is missing the larger point. Williamsburg had started to gentrify before Bloomberg rezoned it, but it wasn’t until that rezoning allowed huge new luxury buildings to be constructed that massive displacement happened and the ethnic and economic of mix of the neighborhood was completely changed. A lot of the measures the city has discussed to offset potential gentrification pressures might be really helpful under the current state of affairs, but in no way, shape, or form would they stand a chance in the face of this massive rezoning that would allow thousands of new units of market rate housing. The mayor’s decision to focus his MIH program exclusively on working class neighborhoods where ‘affordable’ MIH housing is not actually affordable to local residents and new market rate construction is uniquely disruptive to all tenants in the area is fatally flawed. The city’s plan is ‘unfixable’ — Ydanis must vote no!

    • The MIH housing is needed in poorer working class areas, not in thriving middle-class areas where it’s not needed and elected officials would oppose it. I don’t know what the solution is to displacement.

  4. From this article, you can tell he really doesn’t care about the residents, the businesses or Inwood. Here is a few questions that needs to be answered by him. 1) WHERE will the people & businesses go when they are displaced as the buildings they now live/work in get torn down to make way for newer, taller ones? 2) Will they be guaranteed a place in the building that stood where they once lived? 3) How do they plan to update the transit system, the street grid to accommodate all the extra people the area will be taking in when the rezoning is done? 4) How does this plan take into account an already overwhelmed infrastructure that will be seriously overtaxed even further by the rezoning & fix it? 5) How did they take into account that there is no parking spaces now which will be even worse when this gets finished? 6) Did they take into account the fact that both demo/construction of buildings will cause massive congestion that will gridlock the narrow streets Inwood-wide?

    My thoughts are that NONE of this was taken into consideration or cared about by the mayor, city council or the 2 who supposedly represent Inwood as senator or congressman. They see $$$ not the thousands that will be forced to move when this happens.

  5. You are asking good questions but the city will not do much. Maybe extend a bus line through the area, some conversions to 1-way streets, etc. I wonder if the 100+ year old water mains can handle all this new construction?

  6. Please fix not tear down. I believe upgrading infrastructure is what would make inwood better. Please believe the people who live and or work in inwood…don’t sell inwood out! Thank you

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