Beyond My Ken

Buildings containing rent stabilized units on Broadway in Inwood, Manhattan.

After a surprise announcement by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez about dropping the much debated Commercial U, the contested rezoning of Inwood was approved Thursday morning by the City Council’s sub-committee on zoning and franchises and full land-use committee.

The subcommittee passed the rezoning plan by a 7-0 vote, with Councilmember Ritchie Torres abstaining and one member absent. Torres and Inez Barron also abstained from the vote of the full land-use committee, which approved the plan by 12-0; six members were absent.

The final City Council vote is scheduled for August 8 and then Mayor de Blasio would have the ability to sign or veto the plan.

Originally, the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s proposed Inwood rezoning measure would have allowed new residential and commercial development on and east of 10th Avenue, as well as on Dyckman Street, West 207th Street and Broadway known as the Commercial ‘U’, while applying contextual zoning—protections to preserve neighborhood character—for several residential areas west of 10th Avenue.

In all upzoned areas, the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy would apply, requiring that 20 to 30 percent of housing be income-targeted. The land-use application also includes other actions such as the redevelopment of the Inwood library with income-targeted housing, a new library and a pre-K facility, and regulations to improve waterfront with complete public access.

The city has also put forth the Inwood NYC Action Plan, which promises a list of investments in subsidized housing, anti-displacement strategies, neighborhood infrastructure, local businesses and workforce development.

At a Thursday morning press conference, Rodriguez announced that the “Commercial U” would be taken out of the plan because the large chunk of the rezoning would not work for the Inwood community. He also added an additional 1,500 affordable units and a form of rent control for small businesses.

“I have heard my community loud and clear — the rezoning was too large and would change the character of the neighborhood. So for that reason we have negotiated to remove the Commercial U from the rezoning. From Dyckman, 207 to Broadway, 207 is out of this rezoning,” Rodriguez said during the press conference.

Rodriguez said his office has secured over $200 million in public funds and the overall rezoning would cost an estimated $500 million in public funds.

Rodriguez’s additions to the affordable housing number would be achieved through creating, preserving and protecting housing units, and bring the total number of income-targeted units in the plan to 5,000. Three new housing sites will be 100 percent affordable: a Department of Transportation lot by 9th Avenue; the old Sanitation garage on 215 Street and Broadway (after the new one is built); and a third site slated as a recreation and education center with residential.

“We have negotiated significant investment in affordable housing, preservation, protection, STEM education and supporting small businesses,” the councilmember said. “For the first time in our city we will establish rent control for our small businesses. So any [business] with city subsidies we will establish at least a 10-year lease.” Rodriguez said there will be $50 million in investments for schools focusing on technology education, as well as an immigration study center and park renovations as part of the plan.

The Inwood rezoning plan 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. It has been met with censure from some Inwood residents, community groups and a few city officials  who fear gentrification, displacement for minority and low-income residents, and the loss of small businesses and jobs. Those fears brought Inwood community groups together to create a coalition which proposed their own rezoning plan.

The local Community Board approved parts of the city’s proposal but rejected others and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer came out against the proposal, calling for major changes. The City Planning Commission voted in favor of the city’s Inwood rezoning proposal last month.

The “Commercial U” was slated to be located along portions of Dyckman Street, Broadway, and 207 Street  and the proposal would have increase residential and/or commercial density with mixed-use development which would require affordable housing. It was a sore spot for rezoning skeptics. Brewer had argued that the “Commercial U” would displace small businesses and residents. Bennett Melzak, an Inwood resident who lives in the Commercial U area, said in the last public hearing that rezoning that segment  “will result in the loss of my apartment and another 125 families that live in my building.”

The announcement is a departure from Rodriguez’s earlier position on the rezoning, which he has long championed. In addition to the Commercial U, Rodriguez wanted to bring a tech hub and attract investments in the Inwood area.

But the rest of the rezoning is still debatable for residents who have expressed concerns over existing and future affordable housing, small businesses, relocating the Inwood library, traffic congestion, gentrification, preservation, culture and changes in the quality of life.

“By including the Dept. of Transportation site for affordable housing development, by removing the ‘Commercial U’, and by utilizing the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program’s deepest affordability option, the plan that’s now taking shape is much closer to the outline I said I could support. I’m also very pleased to learn that the rezoning plan now includes support for a cultural center,” said Brewer in a press statement.  “Today’s announcement doesn’t solve every problem. We still need more resources for legal services and tenant support to prevent displacement and preserve rent-stabilized housing. The city should also be making every effort to purchase the Charter-Spectrum site at 218th Street and 9th Avenue and redevelop it to produce more affordable housing. I will continue pushing for these and other priorities, as my office scrutinizes the details of today’s agreement.”

“Our resolution was a mixed bag where we agreed with certain aspects of the rezoning and didn’t agree with other aspects. The decision made for the Commercial U certainly makes the Community Board happy,” said Shahabuddeen Ally, chair for Community Board 12. “We always thought dropping parts of the rezoning was better than rejecting it altogether. And this plan is the closest to resembling what the Community Board has wanted.”

It was unclear, however, that dropping the U would mollify all opponents of the plan. Protesters against the rezoning had been standing outside and inside holding up signs and chanting against the plan.

“I think that is one aspect is leaning towards what the community wants but there is so much MIH rezoning included in the rezoning — it’s 80 percent of it,” said long time Inwood resident Cheramie Mondesire, referring to the mandatory inclusionary housing program, which some worry has income levels out of step with what Inwood residents currently can afford. “It does displace people — its a misuse of MIH. It should be used in upper class white neighborhoods not black and brown communities. It will displace us.”

“As Councilmember [Rodriguez] said last time we were in this room — he said most of the people who will be affected by this rezoning are not in this room, I thought that was very telling and those people are not here again. So today, once again, we have folks that are gonna wake up and be surprised when they start seeing development taking place, their rents are increasing for one reason or another and the landlords. People are already being harassed tremendously in our community. This rezoning has caused a feeding frenzy [for developers] in our community.”

In a statement, the mayor hailed the vote: “Today’s committee vote is the first step to ensure Inwood becomes a fairer and stronger neighborhood. It means security for families who deserve to stay in the neighborhood they love, and new education, employment and community investments that will open opportunities for lifelong residents and new immigrants alike.”