Volume 77 / Number 49 - May 7 - 13, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


O.K. rezoning as is

On Monday, the city certified the uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, for the 197c East Village/Lower East Side rezoning. The ULURP clock has started ticking.

Community Board 3 now has less than 60 days for final review of and input on this sprawling rezoning, which encompasses 114 blocks. The whole ULURP process could take seven months. If the plan — which is supported by the Department of City Planning — wins City Council approval under ULURP, it basically would go into effect immediately.

In the last few weeks, however, a group primarily of Chinatown activists has been protesting that if the East Village and Lower East Side are rezoned, then developers will eye Chinatown. Chinatown, the thinking goes, would be the newest luxury high-rise district; gentrification would come swiftly, forcing out low- and middle-income residents and small businesses.

Unfortunately, though, it’s too late to include Chinatown in this rezoning. City Planning has already spent a hefty $2.5 million on an environmental impact statement for this rezoning out of its $8 million budget for such studies. It’s unrealistic to expect Planning now to pour in more money and start over again to include a new area.

More to the point, the East Village is currently mainly under one zoning, and the Lower East Side, similarly, under another. It was thus relatively easy for Planning to rezone them both. The result: An across-the-board, 80-foot height cap, except on Houston, Delancey and Chrystie Sts. and Avenue D, where, by including permanent affordable housing, developers would be allowed to build up to 120 feet high. In short: no more megatowers, no piling up of cobbled-together air rights to create jarring skyscrapers.

This will be Manhattan’s third-largest rezoning ever.
But a cutoff point is needed: By definition, every rezoning plan has a periphery. Plus, Chinatown would not be easy to rezone: It’s split between three community boards; it has manufacturing areas and an Empire Zone, a state tax-incentive program to attract businesses.

Similarly, originally C.B. 3 wanted the Bowery/Third Ave. corridor included in the rezoning. Under its chairperson, David McWater, C.B. 3. initiated the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning, but City Planning took it over with C.B. 3’s support, since it meant the rezoning would happen sooner. Planning then opted to exclude the Bowery/Third Ave.
By striving for the perfect, instead of the very good, three years’ hard work could go down the drain — and tall towers would again be popping up on the Lower East Side and, inevitably, soon in the East Village, too. Think the huge Mary Help of Christians site on Avenue A, the St. Brigid’s Church site on Avenue B.

Chinatown has a legitimate case for rezoning, and the relevant actors need to examine the area’s special features and start mobilizing. But it makes no sense to stop the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning’s momentum for the Chinatown section. Get this first rezoning approved; then, move on and rezone the rest.

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