Volume 75, Number 20 | October 05 - 11, 2005

A map showing proposed area, in orange, that Community Board 3 recently voted unanimously to recommend for downzoning. (Also part of the proposed rezoning area, though not shown in orange, are the north side of E. 13th St. and west side of Third Ave.) The rezoning includes a significant amount of the board’s entire district, the rest of which is shaded in light gray.

C.B. 3 O.K.’s contextual rezoning for East Side

By Lincoln Anderson

At its full board meeting on Sept. 27, Community Board 3 voted unanimously to approve a rezoning of Alphabet City, as well as a broad area of the Lower East Side south of Houston St. A general downzoning of the area to limit floor-to-area ratio, or F.A.R., for new building projects and impose a height cap on new and community facilities is envisioned, as outlined in a survey of the area by B.F.J. Planning that was commissioned by the East Village Community Coalition.

The general idea is for a downzoning that would insure that any new construction is contextual, meaning it wouldn’t exceed the height of the area’s typical walkup tenements. In what is known as a 197-c community-led process, the contextual zoning could be implemented relatively quickly, in from one to two years, according to David McWater, C.B. 3 chairperson. It could well be a “one size fits all” rezoning, meaning the same zoning would be imposed on the entire proposed area, he said.

Although the initial report by B.F.J. Planning included a recommendation for a commercial zoning overlay along St. Mark’s Pl., some community residents were strongly opposed to this. It’s moot now, though, McWater said, because the commercial overlay idea is no longer part of the plan. “It was in the draft report that E.V.C.C. did,” McWater said. “I made it real clear [at the full board meeting] — we did not draft the E.V.C.C. report. It was so ill received,” he said of the commercial overlay idea, “that it’s out.” McWater said the urban planners from B.F.J. Planning observed that St. Mark’s Pl. seems to be basically commercial, so they recommended zoning it as such. However, McWater said the commercial spaces along St. Mark’s are mostly either grandfathered or illegal; he added that rezoning the strip with a commercial overlay would allow up to 50 new businesses in ground-floor and basement spaces.

Another proposal suggested at an earlier point was for a zoning overlay along the E. Houston St. corridor to allow tall buildings but with inclusionary zoning to create a certain percentage of affordable housing. McWater said the thinking was that E. Houston St. already has tall buildings. But, again, he said, this will be for discussion at a later date. For now, the main thing is to push for the contextual zoning, he said.

The rezoning plan incorporates one area — south of Houston St. — that C.B. 3 had studied for rezoning under its previous chairperson, Harvey Epstein. The major contribution of E.V.C.C. — which has been fighting a planned 19-story dormitory project on E. Ninth St. — was to add the area between 14th and Houston Sts. and Third Ave. and the Avenue D, to the study area.

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