Abigail Savitch-Lew

There was intense opposition to the rezoning by a spectrum of community members.

The Inwood group Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale teamed up with other Inwood community members and business owners Monday to bring a lawsuit against the city challenging the actions of de Blasio administration during the Inwood rezoning proposal and its’ approval in August.

According to the court filing, the lawsuit challenges the approval of the rezoning plan itself and contends the process the city used to conduct it was incomplete. Specifically, the challenge contends the Inwood rezoning’s environmental impact study missed important factors such as the impact on preferential rent leases, racial displacement, and minority- and women-owned businesses. The plaintiffs also allege the study failed to take into account the impact of prior rezonings, and the effect of the temporary loss of the community’s library being replaced with a mobile unit until its replaced by a facility in a new building.

The lawsuit is asking the court for the annulment of the City Council’s approval of the Inwood rezoning.   

A group of over a dozen plaintiffs, community leaders and activists including Congressman Adriano Espaillat and State Senator-elect Robert Jackson held a press conference outside the steps of the Manhattan Supreme Court.

“We feel very strongly that the Inwood rezoning will result in the massive displacement of working class people in northern Manhattan,” said Espaillat. “It will further contribute to segregating this city along income lines. And mandatory inclusionary zoning contributes to that zoning and so this lawsuit is based on the concept that people of color and working class people will be disportionately displaced by building high towers in a neighborhood.” Mandatory inclusionary zoning is a policy adopted by the de Blasio administration that requires developers who take advantage of new density created by rezonings set aside a number of income-targeted apartments. Critics say the income levels of those units are out of step with neighborhood needs.

Espaillat said that the rezoning’s impact on over 12,000 preferential rent leases in Washington Heights and Inwood (including the displacement in nearby neighborhoods extending all the way to Marble Hill) were never even considered as part of the environmental study. “The mayor complains and other people complain that our school system is one of the most segregated school system in the country that is happening because neighborhoods are segregated across ethnic and income lines,” he said.

Inwood business owner and plaintiff, Ivan Yeung, who has operated U Like Chinese Take Out on the corner of Broadway and 207th Street for 14 years, said the his two top concerns were that the rezoning could generate higher real-estate taxes that are passed on to him through his rent and more construction — both of which could hinder his business, “My lease has almost doubled from $12,000 a year to $22,000,” he said at the press conference.

“The city stands by the approvals it made authorizing this important initiative. After we are served, we will review and respond to the complaint accordingly,” said Nick Paolucci, the spokesperson from the city’s Law Department.

The de Blasio administration’s Inwood rezoning proposal, spearheaded by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and the NYC Economic Development Corporation, was the fifth neighborhood rezoning under de Blasio to move through the ULURP process.

Rodriguez did not respond to interview requests.

“Our position has been clear from the beginning. We have always opposed the rezoning,” said Shah Ally, chair of Manhattan Community Board 12. He said the community board did not have an opinion on the lawsuit but supported efforts by Inwood community members who want to better their neighborhood.

Ally also said the biggest concern of the community after the rezoning passed has been to make sure developers are held accountable for their promises to the community.  

The rezoning passed the City Council in August and is slated to bring residential and commercial development eastward across 10th Avenue to the Harlem River, 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.

The $500 million rezoning plan will facilitate 2,600 new affordable housing units and preserve and protect another 2,500 existing affordable homes. The mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) program covering Inwood gives developers a choice 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.  

Development does appear to be taking off. Less than a month after the Inwood rezoning passed the City Council the real estate site YIMBY reported that permits had been filed for a 30-story, mixed-use building slated to create 614 affordable units four blocks away from the 207th Street subway station. In November, the Brooklyn-based real estate development firm Hello Living announced that it plans to acquire 4650 Broadway between Sherman Avenue and Dongan Place in Inwood, which is slated for a mixed-use commercial and residential building with 272 residential units (30 percent of which will be affordable units). The building was sold last year for estimated $26 million dollars and Hello Living paid an estimated $55 million for the two-story parking garage spanning 75,000 square feet, according to YIMBY.  

The library’s closure has been a contentious issue and was included in the lawsuit. The suit asks that even if the Court is not persuaded that the city failed to conduct a proper environmental review and annul the rezoning that at least it requests the court to order the de Blasio administration mitigate the closure of the Inwood library. It says that the current environmental impact study did not take into account the impact the temporary loss of the library would have on the community, “…the rezoning contemplates razing Inwood’s public library and ultimately replacing it with a new, multi-purpose building. The lead agency failed to consider the impact of the loss of the library or propose concrete alternatives to mitigate those impacts. SEQRA requires no less and the lead agency’s failure is another example of the arbitrary and capricious nature of the agency action.”

The de Blasio administration also faces at least one lawsuit and perhaps as many as three legal challenges over the City Planning Commission’s approval of the Two Bridges development scheme. Earlier this year it beat back a lawsuit over the East Harlem rezoning that, like the Inwood case, focused on the environmental review.

The next court date for this case has been tentatively scheduled for January 17, 2019.