Staten Island Community Board 1 voted 37-3 against the de Blasio administration’s Bay Street rezoning plan on Tuesday night, setting forth a list of conditions the city must meet to get the board’s approval..
The meeting was part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) that started after the City Planning Commission certified the Bay Street Corridor rezoning proposal and the Department of City Planning (DCP) released a draft environmental impact statement in November. The rezoning is part the de Blasio administration housing plan to create and preserve 300,000 affordable housing units, partly through rezoning up to 15 neighborhoods across the city.
The vote of “no with conditions” came after four hours of testimony during which board members heard residents question representatives of DCP, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the mayor’s office about housing affordability, traffic, transit, infrastructure and public access to open space–all while Councilmember Debi Rose, whose vote will carry the most weight when the proposal reaches the Council, listened and took notes.
The conditions set by the board included 20 acres of public open space, construction of new schools, additional ferry services and making the proposed renovations to the Cromwell recreation center a separate project with its own funding.
The community board did vote in favor of two related applications for the development of city-owned properties; 55 Stuyvesant Place, which will be developed by EDC for an office space, and the Jersey Street city’s sanitation garage lot, which is slated for mixed-use development with affordable housing, as part of the rezoning package for the neighborhood. The board placed conditions on those approvals, like a requirement that the Jersey Street site include a library or have an educational space for children.
“It was gratifying to see so many local residents take part in last night’s community board meeting. My focus since this rezoning was first proposed has always been about holistic planning, meeting a range of housing needs, and infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure — including recreation facilities, parks, open space, traffic improvements, school seats, sewers, and everything needed to make our neighborhoods function,” said Rose in an email to City Limits. “I have heard the concerns of local residents, and I will take those with me to the negotiating table as the public review process continues.”
The Bay Street Corridor rezoning plan comes after three years of community engagement between DCP and Staten Island residents, community organizations and elected officials. The Bay Street Corridor rezoning proposal includes the St. George, Tompkinsville and Stapleton neighborhoods, covering 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. Two special districts, the Special Stapleton Waterfront District and Special St. George District, will be expanded and remain for commercial, residential and retail use. The rehabilitation of city’s recreation centers Cromwell and Lyons have been folded into the rezoning. It is expected to create an estimated 1,800 mixed-income apartments.
The area has not seen any zoning changes since 1961. Along the Canal Street Corridor, the city proposes to change the zoning to R6B where building heights can range from a single-story building to 13 stories for medium-density residential use. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development says it will provide to the rezoning area tenant protection programs including the Certificate of No Harassment program and the Neighborhood Pillars program to preserve existing affordable housing and offer legal assistance to North Shore tenants who face eviction or harassment. The area will fall under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program requiring the creation of income-targeted units.
Staten Island has trust issues
Residents cited discontinued city projects such as the New York Wheel, which was halted due to funding issues and a court case, as well as discarded proposals for renovating the Cromwell center as reasons for a lack of trust.
“This community has been underserved and underfunded for many years. I am not a enemy of the mayor but we have been clear from the beginning that the area needs to be ready for these changes,” said Priscilla Marco, a member of the community board and president of the Van Duzer Street Civic Association. “People feel burned by the Wheel. Cromwell should have been funded outside of the rezoning. Folks have been waiting for years on Cromwell. This is an accumulation of how people are feeling about this. We don’t feel trusting.”
Marco said Cromwell will end up taking up most of the budget for capital expenses in the rezoning when it should have been funded years ago, “The estimates I have heard could go from $50 [million] to $100 million for the complete restoration of Cromwell.”
Although the rezoning plan includes affordable housing, the Staten Island Housing Dignity Coalition and some residents said during the public meeting that the levels of affordability being proposed were unrealistic for their community. Residents were also wary of displacement, and noted that the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) assessed that over 1,700 residents who lived in unregulated housing units were at risk for displacement (the full analysis of the Staten Island environmental impact statement can be read here).
During resident testimonies, one of the founding members of the Staten Island Housing Dignity Coalition, Pastor Janet Jones form Rossville AME Zion Church, said that over the years she has seen her young families in her congregation move out of state because of the housing affordability costs, “I have seen multiple families and generations living in single family homes and they are not alone. There are many renters who are just one rent increase away from homelessness. So, based on the city’s own data and our own research over the past four years, we cannot support a rezoning plan that will put millions of dollars in the pockets of developers and will not provide the greatest benefit of the North Shore community.”
The proposal is slated to bring over 6,000 new residents to Staten Island, and current residents asked about why the city had not planned better to avoid overcrowding in schools, for better transit services, traffic management, improvements in infrastructure, adequate health facilities, needed public open spaces, and even the demand for supermarkets. The rezoning would displace the existing local supermarket according to the DEIS, and there are no plans for new supermarkets. Residents fear a food desert in the community.
Michael Hart, a resident and member of the St. George Civic Commission, listed several items from the DEIS such as overcrowding in schools, police, fire, healthcare, shadow impact, traffic, supermarkets, as issues that could not be mitigated.
“The pattern here is clear: City Planning and City Hall came up with a proposal on how much housing they want (and yes we need affordable housing) and then they designed a plan that backtracked the answer to what they wanted, This is not a plan. When we went through this process with the Wheel, many said, ‘Yes, with the following conditions.’ None of those conditions were ever followed up,” said Hart, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. We are not doing that again. The answer is not yes with conditions but a firm no until we have further commitments.”
City agencies respond
DCP Staten Island Director Christopher Hadwin and his team lead the presentation before the public meeting began and stayed for the duration along with HPD Director for Queens and Staten Island Perris Straughter, Will Fisher from the NYC Economic Development Corporation and Ahmed Tijani from the mayor’s office.
Hadwin said that many of the concerns residents had could be addressed during the ULURP process and during the negotiations between the city and Rose.
Hadwin added that they were to hear to listen to the concerns of the residents, “It is important to note that this plan won’t happen overnight and we would be working with city agencies in coming months.”
When the issue of healthcare facilities was brought up, Fisher did mention the approval of $132 million in tax-exempt bonds to help modernize of Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC) although the rezoning area is located far for residents. The project will include the addition of a brand new emergency department.
On the topic of transit, the mayor’s state of the city address on Thursday also included NYC EDC’s expansion of ferry services from from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan.
During the ULURP process the community board has 60 days to review the and convene public hearings on the rezonings and vote. The board can also add stipulations into the rezoning plan. Then comes a 30-day review period from the Borough President’s office where he/she can also add stipulations into the plan. Both the board and the beep are only advisory voices.
The plan then heads to the City Planning Commission before moving to the City Council’s sub-committee on zoning and franchises and the full land-use committee before the final vote from the City Council. During this period, Councilmembers try to negotiate the stipulations presented by the community board and the borough president’s office with the city.
Reaction to the vote
On Thursday, North Shore Civic Association leaders held a press conference on Front Street to respond to Tuesday night’s vote.
“As leaders of and representatives of our community on the Local Advisory Council, we demand a more comprehensive city plan for our North Shore residents.” said Theo Dorian, President of St. George Civic said in his press statement. “We learned from the costly mistakes of the failed “NY Wheel Project.” We will not be fooled again. Staten Island Community Board 1 emphatically rejected the Bay Street Corridor Rezoning at the full board meeting on Tuesday Night. We now look to Borough President Oddo and Councilwoman Rose to ensure that the Bay Street Corridor rezoning goes no further without these community benefits and infrastructure improvements.”
The association has demanded from elected officials and city agencies more infrastructure improvements to accommodate planned density, preservation of public waterfront access and views of New York Harbor, a comprehensive transportation plan and truly affordable housing.
The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development also responded to the community board vote on the Bay Street rezoning plan in a post saying the city needs to provide deeper affordability for the area and fight displacement for at-risk tenants.
“What we do here will determine the fate of the generations to come so we have to be careful. We need a lot things in place beforehand,” said Priscilla Marco.