De Blasio’s Sixth Year in Office Could Feature Three Neighborhood Rezonings

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Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office.

February 2015: Mayor de Blasio delivers his second state of the city address, in which he names the first neighborhoods targeted for rezonings.

In 2015, the de Blasio administration announced its plan to rezone 15 neighborhoods as part of its drive to create or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units. Since then, East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, Jerome Avenue and Inwood have been rezoned, other studies have gotten underway, and the mayor has upped the goal to 300,000 units

A mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) rule was approved by City Council in 2016 and today every neighborhood upzoning requires developers building in the rezoned area to provide a percentage of the new housing units at “affordable” rents, with rent levels defined by the city. There remains intense debate over whether the rezonings create truly affordable units or instead drive speculation and gentrification.

In 2017, the City Council passed a number of laws to protect tenants from displacement and harassment, and the de Blasio administration included new anti-displacement strategies in its Housing 2.0 plan. Now the City Council is considering an additional 18 pieces of legislations for tenant protection that supporters say will go a step further in providing the protection tenants need from bad-acting landlords (the progress of the bills can be tracked here). Also in 2019, legislators in Albany will consider whether to renew and possibly reform rent regulations that are critical to affordability in the city.

Here is a roundup of where each rezoning stands and what to expect this year:

Bay Street, Staten Island:

After almost three years of community engagement in Staten Island, the DCP released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Bay Street proposal in November, launching the seven-month period of public review ending with a vote in City Council. During the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, the public has a chance to comment formally on the proposal. The proposal first heads to Staten Island Community Board 1 for 60 days for review, a public hearing and an advisory vote, after which it will go to the Borough President for his advisory opinion, then to the City Planning Commission for a vote and then to the City Council for a final vote.

Staten Island Community Board 1 is holding their meeting on Jan 8th at the All Saints Episcopal Church 2329 Victory Blvd at 6:15 p.m. In a past interview with City Limits, Councilmember Debi Rose’s spokesperson said emphasis on public infrastructure and deep affordable housing were important components in the rezoning for her community. The Staten Island Housing Dignity Coalition and other community activists have expressed concerns about affordability and displacement and how the city will use publicly-owned property (Details of the DEIS can be read here).

The Bay Street Corridor rezoning proposal includes the St George, Tompkinsville and Stapleton neighborhoods, an estimated 14-block area along Bay Street bounded by Victory Boulevard to the north and Sands Street to the south, including the two-block area along Canal Street south of Bay Street. It is slated to create an estimated 1,800 mixed-income apartments. The proposal includes the development of two city-owned properties; 55 Stuyvesant Place and 539 Jersey Street for job creation and mixed-use (commercial and residential) development with affordable housing. Two special districts, the Special Stapleton Waterfront District and Special St. George District, will be expanded and remain for commercial, residential and retail use.

Bushwick, Brooklyn:

In 2014, councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal launched a community planning process for the rezoning of the Bushwick area in response to the community board’s concerns about out-of-context development. The Bushwick Steering Committee for the rezoning, with over 200 members from Bushwick residents to community organizations, released its own plan in September. The Bushwick community plan called for the city’s environmental review to include “a specific focus on public health and socioeconomic conditions, including alternate methods for predicting secondary displacement, by supplementing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with a Health Impact Assessment (HIA).”

The next step would be for the city to present its own plan, followed by community engagement meetings before a final neighborhood plan is released from the city and then a draft environmental impact statement is prepared. According to the DCP, the agency is working with their partners on starting engagement again and will post a timeline this winter. Councilman Reynoso’s office said they are expecting the city’s Bushwick draft plan to move forward in the middle of the winter season.

The city’s draft rezoning framework borders Broadway and Flushing Avenue and bounded by parts of Cypress Avenue and two cemeteries bordering the Jackie Robinson Expressway. The neighborhood corridors, where MIH and preservation programs may apply are planned along parts of Wilson, Central and Bushwick avenues. But most of Bushwick Avenue stretching from Myrtle Avenue until Halsey Street has been proposed as a historic corridor, while Broadway, Wyckoff and Myrtle avenues are proposed as the area’s transit corridor along the L, M and J subway lines. DCP’s stated goals are to preserve neighborhood character including a historical district; allow for modest growth with affordable and mixed-income housing and retail; promote higher density mixed-use development with affordable and mixed income housing, retail, and community facilities close to transit; reinforce job-generating uses and encourage a mix of uses—including open space—on underutilized industrially-zoned sites.

Reynoso’s office told City Limits they hoped the city takes the community’s plan into account. But community groups such as Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network have said that they do not trust the city to responsibly rezone a neighborhood of color, and Churches United for Fair Housing, part of the Bushwick steering committee, held protests during the summer against new out-of-context development in the area.

Chinatown, Manhattan:

The City Planning Commission voted in favor of the application for four new tall buildings in the Two Bridges neighborhood in December.

The approval came despite concerns such as shadows, pollution from construction, affordability and tenant harassment that were raised by community groups such as Lower East Side Organized Neighbors (LESON) who wanted the developments to be halted. Elected officials like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Margaret Chin wanted to the application go through ULURP. The CPC said during its approval vote that the changes developers sought to existing regulations covering the four sites constituted merely a “minor modification” and therefore did not need to go through ULURP.

A lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Civil Court alleges the CPC circumvented the City Council’s authority over the land-use process and neutralized the application filed by Chin and Brewer for a text amendment on the Two Bridges zoning resolution. It demands a public review of the three proposed development sites and a halt on site construction until it goes through the public-review process.

A judge declined the request by the Council and Brewer to order a complete halt to all activity related to the developments pending a February hearing. But the de Blasio administration has agreed to not issue any Department of Buildings approval letters between now and then, according to court records.

The plans include a 1,008-foot rental tower at 247 Cherry Street by JDS Development Group; a 798-foot dual-tower project at 260 South Street by L+M Development Partners and CIM Group; and a 730-foot building at 259 Clinton Street by Starrett Corporation. According to the DEIS the four towers would bring in 11,000 square feet for retail and over 2,700 new residential units to the area; 25 percent of those units will be affordable. Two hundred of those 690 affordable units would be set aside for seniors (details about rent and income levels not been shared).

While the developers’ application also included the construction of a ADA compliant subway stop and over $12 million in renovations for the NYCHA Jacob Riis housing complex in the area, groups such as LESON and Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV) have said those measures are mandatory and the city’s responsibility.

The drama in Two Bridges is part of the fallout from the de Blasio administration’s rejection of a 2008 community-based zoning proposal by the Chinatown Working Group for all of Chinatown. Despite dozens of meetings since 2008, the plan never gained traction and was rejected by DCP in 2015. The city contended that plan covered too broad an area, and has instead moved toward rezoning a much smaller core area although details have yet to be shared by the city. The Chinatown Working Group plan has remained in background of the Two Bridges contention but the plan is not being currently considered for review by the city.

Flushing, Queens:

The city’s rezoning plan for Flushing is the only one to have been withdrawn. But a state designation that triggers the clean-up of long-polluted sites and a waterway in Flushing could usher in waterfront redevelopment. The Flushing Willets Point Corona LDC (which worked with DCP) nominated the area for a state-funded Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) designation grant to address environmental issues on vacant or underutilized properties. The Cuomo administration approved the $1.5 million grant in June 2018.

The Brownfield Opportunity Area grant is for a 62-acre area of former industrial property between downtown Flushing and the waterfront with 32 potential brownfields bounded by Roosevelt Avenue, Prince Street and Northern Boulevard. The planned redevelopment of the area includes of new mixed-use buildings where 421-A tax abatement program (where a portion of housing units must be affordable in order to receive tax incentives) could be applied for interested private developers, creation of public open space along the waterfront, extension of pedestrian and vehicular circulation systems, according to the Flushing Willets Point Corona LDC.

The state’s 421-a tax abatement program is a property tax exemption for developers who are interested in constructing multi-family residential buildings and provide a portion of the housing units as affordable housing units — at a minimum 20 percent of the units must be affordable — in order to qualify for the tax incentive.

According to the DCP, private applicants who proceed with development in accordance with the recommendations of the Brownfield Opportunity Area could initiate rezonings within the designated area. But no area-wide rezoning is planned.

Gowanus, Brooklyn:

Last year in June, DCP released the framework for a Gowanus rezoning which includes development along the 4th Avenue corridor, repairs to the NYCHA Gowanus and Wyckoff Houses public-housing complexes and the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone where the city proposed infrastructure and service improvements related to transportation, internet access and sanitation that support business retention and growth. The framework also proposed working with existing organizations and business service providers to develop specific economic development and job training. According to the DCP, the city agency will begin preparing the environmental review during the winter. The next steps would be the issuance of a Draft Scope of Work and scheduling of a public scoping meeting to take comments to inform work on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement

From 2013 to 2015, Gowanus residents and stakeholders participated in “Bridging Gowanus” a community planning process spearheaded by Councilmember Brad Lander, through which they discussed the merits of allowing more development for residential and mixed-use projects using affordable housing tools such as MIH, and more density in the IBZ while still maintaining the mix of creative culture in Gowanus. At Lander’s invitation, the de Blasio administration then agreed to launch a community planning process for a potential rezoning.

For Gowanus residents, issues around race and inequity, manufacturing and small business survival, repairs and investments in the NYCHA community, school desegregation initiatives, housing affordability; and the environment have been drivers for community’s concerns surrounding the city’s rezoning efforts.

Long Island City, Queens:

In a nationwide competition for Amazon’s second headquarters, Long Island City and a county in Virginia were winners. Amazon will receive almost $2 billion in tax breaks —- a first in the history of New York — to make its home along the public and privately owned lots on the waterfront on a 15-acre parcel from 46th and 44th Road and between Vernon Boulevard and the East River.

The backlash to the deal has City Council members, some who signed onto an introduction letter that New York sent in its application package, advocacy groups and Long Island City community organizations in an uproar over the behind-closed doors agreement

Community members have raised concerns about tenant harassment from landlords, overcrowding, speculative real estate investments, schools, infrastructure and the effect on Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing complex in the country. The City Council is holding three public hearings with Amazon executives to understand the Amazon deal (the first hearing was held in the December at City Hall). While advocates and elected officials fight the Amazon deal —- the de Blasio and Cuomo administrations have formed the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to share information and engage the community. CAC members will work through three subcommittees to develop plans for the headquarters, onsite public amenities and investments in the surrounding communities.

With so many changes coming to the area, NYC EDC said if any updates to land use regulations occurred in the future — it would be assessed as part of a broader, cohesive plan for development within Long Island City “which will be informed by robust community engagement,” in an email to City Limits.

There are no planned rezonings for LIC currently instead private developers have been working with the city to bring in affordable housing and other amenities into the area. But neighboring communities such as Sunnyside will see the beginning of a 20-year development plan for 180 acres of current railroad yard space in Sunnyside in conjunction with Amtrak. The Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee will spend the next year in tandem with a group of consultants to formulate a master plan for the development of possibly 24,000 homes, 19 schools, and 52 acres of public parks over the next two decades.

Southern Boulevard, Bronx:

As reports of an emerging real-estate market in South Bronx multiply, the city has been studying over 130 blocks of the Crotona Park East and Longwood neighborhoods between the Cross Bronx Expressway and East 163rd Street including the Bronx River and Crotona Park. The possible rezoning will be paired with the state’s Department of Transportation estimated $90 million renovation of Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard which will be handed over or the city to operate and manage in the future.

After visioning and goal-setting workshops in 2018, DCP plans on having topic-focused workshops with residents, local organizations and elected officials; a schedule will be set in January.

Councilmember Rafael Salamanca has said he hoped to see a draft of a rezoning plan in 2019 and wanted to focus on deep affordable housing, education and job training and opportunities if a rezoning takes place in his district. Groups such as Take Back the Bronx have been protesting the workshops, arguing that city initiated rezonings cause displacement in communities of color. Other organizations such as The Point Community Development Corporation and Banana Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association have been attending the workshops to help the city agencies such as DCP and Housing Preservation and Development get input on community needs for deeper affordability, open spaces and job training opportunities for youth.

Approved Rezonings:

The latest approved rezoning passed the City Council in August 2018 and involved the Inwood area in northern Manhattan. It passed despite opposition from some Inwood residents, community organizations and elected officials who said the rezoning did not serve the best interests of the community and feared tenant harassment, displacement and negative consequences to small businesses in the area.

The 59-block Inwood rezoning plan, spearheaded by Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, promises affordable housing, parks, waterfront development, infrastructure renovations and a raft of services to the northern Manhattan neighborhood. In response to the approval of the rezoning, Inwood residents have filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the approval of the rezoning plan itself. It specifically 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 community’s library being replaced with a mobile unit until a new facility is created

In Downtown Far Rockaway, where a rezoning was approved in September 2017, the city has selected nonprofit developers for two Far Rockaway affordable housing projects slated to bring in 670 affordable units.

In East Harlem, where a rezoning was approved in November 2017, the DCP recently went over some technical zoning changes and corrections in the height limits for buildings. In the City Planning Commission December hearing, DCP urban planner Calvin Brown said the text amendment would change the maximum height from 215 feet to 145 feet on Park Avenue between East 122nd and 124th streets. Brown added that HPD had preserved and/or created 1,900 affordable units to date and 38 new construction projects had been approved or are in progress as part of the city’s rezoning plan.

Last year, Legal Aid had filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court on behalf two East Harlem residents who challenged the rezoning alleging the city’s environmental analysis of the rezoning failed to accurately assess the risks of “indirect displacement”— displacement caused by changing market conditions and rising rents. In July 2017, a judge ruled against the challenge, finding the city had shown diligence when it conducted its environmental impact study in the displacement of East Harlem residents.

East New York, where a rezoning was approved in April 2016, has seen slow development but critical changes in its infrastructure. As part of the rezoning package, the Broadway Junction—the area’s major transit hub—is undergoing renovation. In July last year, Borough President Eric Adams invited East New York homeowners with mortgages to attend a free assistance program in response to a recent spike in home foreclosures in the area.

HPD has broken ground on few development projects which are projected to create an estimated 2,100 affordable units. Meanwhile programs such as the basement conversion program for one or two family homes is being piloted in Brooklyn’s Community District 5, which includes East New York, Broadway Junction, City Line, Cypress Hills, Highland Park, New Lots, Spring Creek and Starrett City.

Bronx’s Jerome Avenue area, where a rezoning was approved in March of last year, saw almost immediate changes following the approval. In May, an organization representing Jerome Avenue’s autobody repair shops said the funds provided by the city to move those small businesses was not enough to cover relocation expenses and shops without leases were at risk of being evicted on short notice by property owners. By December, most of those shops have shut down and moved while parking lots have popped up in the area, according to residents.

The city did designate a small retention zone for some autobody repair shops within the rezoned area. HPD programs such as a tenant harassment task force and legal assistance to preserve and create affordable housing are underway.

3 thoughts on “De Blasio’s Sixth Year in Office Could Feature Three Neighborhood Rezonings

  1. The area you referred to as Chinatown, Manhattan is in fact Two Bridges, Manhattan. That correction is important as Chinatown and Two Bridges have different zoning regulations. Two Bridges is within a Large Scale Residential Development and is governed under different regulations of the zoning resolution. Hence all the legal opposition from the community regarding CPC’s decision to approve the 3 proposed Development projects. The Chinatown working group plan includes protection of 4 areas including, NYCHA within the Lower East Side, Two Bridges within the waterfront area, Bowery area and Chinatown. That is why the Communities and Neighborhoods within theses areas are making these important zoning demands for the Chinatown Working group plan to be moved by the city. So no not “Drama” but instead a “Community Stance” Please make some corrections to your article as these are important facts and our community fight is not light. All information is vital when seeking the support of your readers. Thank you for your efforts.

    • Thanks for the note. You’re right that the two neighborhoods are distinct. But since the Chinatown Working Group plan would cover the entire area, and since that plan is what launched our coverage of the rezoning discussion in that area, we treat Chinatown as, broadly speaking, the section of the city where a rezoning is being discussed. Treating Two Bridges as separate from the larger Chinatown rezoning conversation would have implications of its own that we’d like to avoid. And our use of the word “drama” does not suggest we take this issue lightly; in fact, our consistent, in-depth coverage of suggests anything but.

  2. My question is how the government are building affordable housing and I cannot get an apartment due to me not being able to afford these crazy mortgages and management expenses. I won’t be consider because supposedly i owe property when i’m in foreclosure and will be homeless. So until then i can be consider instead of being able to move into an apartment i can afford and then it will elivate the chance of me being homeless.

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