Volume 81, Number 19 | October 13 -19, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

Can Hudson Square handle a major rezoning by Trinity?

By Deborah Glick

While there has been tremendous attention paid to the changing face of Lower Manhattan, especially the World Trade Center site, what is happening just to its north is notable for the dramatic changes being proposed and, by comparison, how little attention these proposed changes have received.

While our community’s primary focus has been on the loss of St. Vincent’s Hospital and the New York University proposal looming in the background, and their devastating rippling effects, the specter of a dramatic change from healthcare to luxury condos is part and parcel of a gentrification that is happening across the Village. 

The anger and anxiety caused by such a change are impacting countless people, who feel great frustration and a desire to fight back in a unified fashion to preserve the spirit of the neighborhood.

On a positive note, I am encouraged by the formation of the Live and Learn Coalition, which is trying to create a space where we can take the opportunity to once again act like neighbors, and not adversaries. This is a group that is attempting to examine the proposed changes and bring the community’s input to the conversation, in addition to the terrific job that Community Board 2 has done with organizing itself around these massive projects. 

What is equally challenging, but much less visible, is a major proposal to rezone Hudson Square, an area of 20 blocks from Houston St. to Canal St., and Sixth Ave. and Varick St. to Greenwich and Hudson Sts. Trinity Church owns much of the property in this area and is seeking to maximize its profit on the land that it owns by this rezoning.

A rezoned Hudson Square will add pressure to local services without contributing to those elements that make up a real neighborhood. We’ve learned from painful experience that the city administration hasn’t seen a major development it didn’t support and rarely considers or demands the kinds of concessions that are vital for a livable city. This rezoning as proposed will add 2.7 million square feet of residential housing or roughly 3,210 dwelling units. 

We owe it to the memory of Jane Jacobs to revive our collective outrage and demand that the city administration — many members of which do not even live in New York — take into account the needs of those who currently reside in our neighborhoods and not merely those who can afford multimillion-dollar condominiums. 

What does this mean? It means demanding no more overcrowded classrooms, demanding open space, playgrounds for kids and recreational spaces for those without children, whether they are young or old. More people living in our community will mean more pets, and therefore more neighborhood dog runs are needed.

Furthermore, this means the city must address the concerns of existing buildings that face flooding from our high water table. What will be the impact of 5,000 new people using existing infrastructure that is already overtaxed?

These new developments being proposed are bigger and will change the amount of air and light that has been an essential Lower West Side feature. Our neighborhood has been a respite from the canyons of the Upper East Side, and yet it seems that every zoning change wants to diminish the human scale of our community.

Furthermore, one of the qualities that have made the Lower West Side a wonderful neighborhood has been its mixed-income nature. The majority of these new apartments will be high-end luxury residences that serve to further erode the character of the community.

What we need is affordable housing — in this neighborhood and not bargained to a remote location. And we need real affordable space for small businesses — so that the type of neighborhood shops that we continue to lose can open up. 

One of the most insidious aspects to this whole process is that all of this planning is done without any input from the community. It’s emblematic of this administration that its focus is on the largest developer, to the detriment of the majority of people who make up the populace.

Large developers take a cue from the city administration because they know they can work on a deal behind closed doors. That has to stop. This administration thinks it knows best. Clearly, the level of dissatisfaction and unhappiness that so many feel is a symptom of how disenfranchised the community and neighborhood have become. 

This is a community that has expressed a willingness to participate in the planning process. And yet, time and again, decisions are made behind closed doors and are delivered to us from above. Having the door slammed in our face time and again must come to an end. We are not unreasonable people, but will not give up the fight and allow our neighborhood to be destroyed by unbridled greed.

Glick is assemblymember for the 66th District

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