Emil Cohen for the NYC Council

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who had pushed for a rezoning on Inwood dating back to the Bloomberg administration, in the Council Chambers on Thursday.

The City Council on Thursday approved the contentious Inwood rezoning plan, the fifth rezoning sponsored by the de Blasio administration.

Spearheaded by Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, the 59-block plan promises affordable housing, parks, waterfront development, infrastructure renovations and a raft of services to the northern Manhattan neighborhood. It was strongly opposed by many neighborhood residents and some public officials who fear it will erase a last foothold of affordability in the borough.

Crafted by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Inwood rezoning plan is part of the de Blasio’s administration larger initiative to target 15 neighborhoods for rezoning in order to create and preserve an estimated 300,000 affordable housing units in New York City.

Before the vote took place, Rodriguez’s attempt to address his fellow City Council members was interrupted by protestors shouting “Liar!” “Shame!” “Sell-Out!” across the chamber while throwing fake money that rained over the lawmakers seated below them.

A threat skews the vote

But the shouts from the protestors did not deter Councilmembers from overwhelmingly supporting the plan. The Inwood rezoning passed with 43 votes of “aye.” There was a single no vote from Brooklyn Councilmember Inez Barron, and Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams abstained.

“As we talk about affordable housing where we have 50 percent or more of the housing coming in at market rate,” said Barron, “we are not addressing the issue of homelessness and people who need housing—which is a larger majority in this than those who can afford to pay market rate.”

Williams, who is running for lieutenant governor, said that the city could be doing more for affordable housing. He added that he changed his mind from casting a no vote to abstaining because of a photo on Facebook that was considered a threat to Rodriguez and reported to the NYPD.

The photo Williams referenced was in response to a post that asked how far would a person go to defend their community from the Inwood rezoning. One person commented, “your move” with a photo of a man being beheaded. In an earlier press conference, Rodriguez had revealed the photo and said that protesting was important but threatening someone with the ISIS-like photo was unacceptable.

Other Councilmembers, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, expressed solidarity with Rodriguez.

More details emerge

Originally, the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s proposed Inwood rezoning 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 (an area known as the Commercial U), while applying contextual zoning—protections to preserve neighborhood character—for several residential areas west of 10th Avenue. It also includes a plan to replaces the Inwood library with a new building that combines a library and residences.

Opponents of the Inwood rezoning proposal have listed concerns about its impact on affordable housing, small businesses, the Inwood library, traffic congestion, culture and quality of life. Earlier in the city’s approval process, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Community Board 12 opposed either the full plan or significant parts of it, and demanded changes.

Ahead of key Council committee votes last week, Rodriguez announced that the Commercial U had been taken out of the plan, and that the level of city investment and number of affordable housing units had been increased. The $500 million rezoning plan will facilitate 2,600 new affordable housing units and preserve and protect another 2,500 existing affordable homes.  Brewer and the leadership of CB12 indicated those changes addressed at least some of their concerns.

Rodriguez on Thursday revealed which version of the mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) program, which requires developers taking advantage of new density to devote a share of new apartments to affordable housing, would be applied. In Inwood, developers will choose between devoting 25 percent of units to rents affordable to households making 60 percent of the area median income (which is an estimated $56,340 for a household of three persons) or setting aside 20 percent of units to be affordable to those making 40 percent area median income, which is $37,560 for a household of three persons.  

The rezoning plan aims to preserve affordable units through offering loans and tax incentives to building owners, programs that help property owners to make repairs and the “Landlord Ambassador” initiative that provides technical assistance to landlords to navigate Department of Housing Preservation and Development financing processes.

Additional preservation programs include the “Neighborhood Pillars” program, where financing is provided for nonprofits to acquire and rehabilitate rent-regulated buildings; “Partners in Preservation,” which is an anti-displacement strategy; and the “Certificate of No Harassment” pilot program that bars landlords with histories of harassment from getting building permits. HPD will also create a tenant anti-harassment unit to investigate construction and maintenance harassment by bad-acting landlords, conduct outreach for the NYC Rent Freeze program for Inwood tenants and open a base office for nonprofit that provides homeless services.

The rezoning includes investments in public school facilities, curriculum and teacher professional development and expanding STEM programs and funding for a new Immigrant Research and Performing Arts Center.  Finally, the plan includes $137 million for new and improved public parks and waterfront open space, as well as $134 million in transportation, pedestrian safety and infrastructure improvements.

Protests continue

Even after the changes made before last week’s committee vote, the protesters continued to demand affordable housing at income levels that meet community needs, steps to maintain the neighborhood’s contextual character, a separate land-use process for the library development and clear language on protections for construction workers.

Over the past week, protestors against the rezoning had staged a sit-in inside of Rodriguez’s office and one arrest had occurred. On Monday, protestors marched through the Inwood area and blocked traffic on Broadway and Dyckman Street. The march also resulted in nine arrests of Inwood activists and residents.  Congressman Adriano Espaillat, a major force in the area, continued to raise concerns about its impact right up to Thursday’s final Council vote.

Riverside & Edgewood Neighborhood Association member and Inwood resident Jeanie Dubnow* said after Monday’s protest, “There are very few points of agreements. With the Commercial U, we wanted it to be contextual. What Ydanis did was in his discussions with the city—he took out of the rezoning. [He]did not make it contextual and as a result made it worse than it was.”

Dubnow said that opponents to the rezoning wanted contextual zoning to place restrictions along the main commercial corridor so that the area could avoid speculative investments and out of character buildings, “The fact of the matter is that this rezoning plan is terrible. [Rodriguez] got a few things; fix the park, fix the waterfront, give money for a school, tech hub. Why do we have to be rezoned to get that? We should have our parks fixed anyway. Is that our punishment, that we have to be rezoned in order to get these goodies? The rezoning is there to actually there to benefit real estate.”

The de Blasio administration earlier rezoned East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem and Jerome Avenue. Rezonings of Bushwick and Gowanus are expected in 2019, and the administration is studying possible rezonings of Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, Bay Street in Staten Island and Long Island City in Queens. A bid to rezone Flushing West was withdrawn, and it remains unclear if any portion of Chinatown—where community members sought but the administration rejected a broad rezoning—will be rezoned.

* Correction: The original version of this article erroneously reported that Dubnau was a member of CB12. We regret the error.

7 thoughts on “Council Approves Inwood Rezoning Amid Protest

  1. This statement requires clarification: “Spearheaded by Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, the 59-block plan promises affordable housing, parks, waterfront development, infrastructure renovations and a raft of services to the northern Manhattan neighborhood.”

    A rezoning is a change to the zoning map. It does impact affordable housing since where upzoning occurs you do get added to the MIH map and that comes into effect. But all the rest — parks, watefront development, infrastructure, services — have absolutely nothing to do with rezoning and are all basically bribes (and non-binding ones at that) to sweeten the deal. The councilmember should have been getting all of those things for his neighborhood anyway.

    As a zoning matter, there are no new parks for the 12,000+ projected new residents. There is a nonbinding promise from the city to create two tiny strips at Academy St (ConEd land) and North Cove (I think MTA land), and each waterfront parcel has a WAP that requires a 40 ft strip of public access when developed, but those are not substitutes for either usable park space or connections that go from somewhere to somewhere.

    Also, in your list of concerns you left out the fact that the plan is just shoddy urban planning. Some of the buildings are way overscaled, with densities not seen north of Central Park. There is commercial on every single block, even though what works best in Inwood are some of its noncommercial streets. The use of city land for housing and not parks is a break from past policy, while some of the allowable land uses are bad fits (Inwood does not need more nightclubs). The removal of the U was really the last straw, leaving a complete mess of a plan with a now rather obviously spot-zoned half block to benefit the library (unnecessary for redevelopment) and the adjacent sites owned by politically connected players. Take a look: https://ibb.co/gXoU1U And don’t get me started about blocking housing from the northern end and leaving it blighted just in case the hospital ever wants a 27 story expansion. Where did that come from?

    There are many who can’t be bothered to read the nuanced points above — this is Manhattan, we need housing, rezone to get the most housing. But even if you take this view the politics were a disaster — the plan as passed will yield FEWER HOUSING UNITS than the “lower density alternative” evaluated in the FEIS that set all upzoned areas at 11 stories. Yes, fewer units than what would have been a much better plan.

    Shame on the city, the mayor, and the clowns at EDC who wouldn’t know zoning if their own low-density brownstones were upzoned. What a sham.

  2. Sounds like more of the same old : politics of the powerful combined with poor planning plus bureaucratic arrogance and political ambitions beyond an elected official’s district—v. a solid attempt to address the real needs of real people in a real neighborhood. Bah humbug on the city–sadly, once again! What will it take to change this kind of self serving m.o. by NYC pols?

    ksf PhD

  3. Jeanie Dubnau is absolutely right about the “Commercial U.” Council Member Rodriguez saying he did what the community wanted by taking out most of the “U” to protect small businesses is a complete hoax. Almost all the areas around the “U” will be contextually zoned with height limits. It makes complete planning sense for the “U” to be contextually zoned to the same height, especially if you want to protect existing small businesses. Reverting the “U” to existing zoning is an invitation to developers to buy adjacent 1-and 2-story buildings so they can combines air rights and build tall towers with expensive condos or rentals on higher floors. They have not done this under existing zoning because there’s no market for it. But with the rezoning introducing about 8,000 new residents much wealthier than most current Inwood tenants, coming to the new market rate apartments, the market will be there and many of those small commercial buildings–and the businesses in them–will be gone. Contextual zoning would have prevented this. Some new development might still happen in a contextual “U” but it would have been more gradual and less extreme, with more time for the community to adapt and for at least some businesses to relocate in the community.

  4. In addition, lets make mention how useless our local Assembly Member Rev. Al Taylor has been regarding the zoning. When it comes to housing issues like transparency @ HPD the Rev. will be praying for that. Just got his newsletter in the mail and there is nothing about bills signed, addressing housing issues when it comes to HPD corrupt developers and property managers.

  5. I agree with the previous comments, particularly Inwood Resident, with the first comment.

    My only addition is my disgust at the NYPL trustees. New York needs some real library trustees, not billion-dollar-a-year CEO’s with a penchant for chiselling their names on the 42nd Street Central Library. Libraries are libraries and performing arts centers are just that.
    One goes to a library for books and other information. Turning libraries into entertainment centers and further commercializing them with gift shops and wine bars is not what we need of our libraries and not what we want from our trustees.
    Inwood library is a historically significant structure. Demolishing a good building to replace it with something unspecified, is wanton foolishness, with a complete disregard for the environmental impact of such waste. Inwood library is an award-winning library (2016). If the air rights are what the NYPL trustees (mostly hedge-fund and real estate people) want, then sell them and use the funds to improve our current Inwood library.
    Build the new structure, whatever it may actually be, (there has been no public disclosure of any real plans, only a few pictures), on one of the City owned sites in east Inwood. All the new residents will need a library. Maybe Steven A. Schwarzman would like to legitimately put his name on this structure – the Schwarzman – Eliza. Now there’s an idea!

  6. This is Michael Weaver giving my opinion about this topic because there’s just too much of this rezoning of neighborhoods being ignored for so long and now seemed to succombed to corporate interest instead of long needs of working class residents has been lost.

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