Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Report on the Scoping Session

For those who missed the June 25 Scoping Meeting:
A couple of us presented the case for including the Bowery in the City's rezoning plan -- David Mulkins of 5th Street was particularly eloquent -- but most of the testimony in the evening session I attended was devoted to support for the Community Board's 11-point plan, the best features of which are unfortunately beyond the purview of zoning: the tenants' legal fund and the anti-harassment & anti-demolition measures to protect tenants.

Below is a generalized comparison of just the differences between 1) the City's proposal, 2) the CB's 11 points, 3) the LESRRD alternative, and 4) the current zoning. Instead of talking zoning jargon, I'm translating F.A.R. into stories of a typical tenement with a 70'X25' floor-space. The translation is not exact, but it's better than reading jargon:

DCP (the City's plan)
Most streets and avenues: construction no larger than 6 tenement-sized stories (4FAR)* height cap: 75-80'

Houston, Delancey, Chrystie, D: construction no larger than 8 tenement-sized stories (5.4FAR) , but 9 tenement-sized stories (7.2FAR) if 20% affordable housing is included height cap: 120'

The Bowery is left out of the plan

Avenues: construction no larger than 5 tenement-sized stories (3.45 FAR) or 7 tenement-sized stories (4.6FAR) if affordable housing is included
Most side streets: construction no larger than 4 tenement-sized stories (3FAR)

Houston, Delancey: 7 tenement-sized stories or 9 tenement-sized stories with affordable housing
Chrystie: 9 tenement-sized stories or 12 tenement-sized stories with affordable housing

All streets and avenues including the Bowery: construction no larger than 5 tenement-sized stories (3.44FAR), but 6 tenement-sized stories (4FAR) with affordable housing

All streets and avenues: no larger than 5 stories (3.44FAR ) but much, much more is allowed on large, combined lots if a community facility (e.g., dormitory) is included north of Houston or a hotel south of Houston. If you can bring enough lots together, you can build to the sky. Hotel owners are cashing in on the south of Houston zoning as I write. Hotels cannot be built north of Houston, under current zoning, except in the commercial zones on 3rd Avenue and The Bowery. That's why it's so important to try to get the Bowery included in the rezoning. If the rezoning goes through without the Bowery, developers, unable to build any more huge hotels south of Houston, will line the Bowery with them all the way down to Canal, and Chinatown will become the next frontier for the bulldozer Gentrification.

All three rezoning proposals would end the community facility/dormitory and hotel bonuses. The DCP plan would bring upscale development, only 20% of it affordable, to Delancey, Chrystie, Houston and D.

The CB3 plan would bring less development to the avenues, 30% of it affordable, more significant development, 30% affordable, to Houston and Delancey and huge development, 30% affordable, to Chrystie.

The LESRRD alternative would bring, in effect, no development at all of any kind.

The controversy in rezoning in a nutshell: to get 20% affordable housing, the neighborhood must accept the development of 80% market-rate housing. The CB's 30%-70% is better, but still not good from a preservationist point of view.

It's been my position that inviting developers in will irreparably harm the LES/EV. The neighborhood would be transformed into an upscale playground -- more banks, bars and chain stores. No more Loisaida. Lots more pressure to evict low-rent long-time tenants. As the wealthy are drawn to development, the trend will edge towards Chinatown, threatening one of Manhattan's few remaining vital, ethnic communities and New York's first outsider immigrant neighborhood -- it is the site of Five Points.

If, however, the entire neighborhood is capped, including the Bowery, the rich will have to invade someplace else, and that someplace else will become the trendy place to be and the pressure will shift off us. That would help save what's left of Loisaida and the affordable housing that's still here.

* FAR is a measure of volume, so it's not the same as number of stories. With an FAR of 1, you can build a one story building covering the entire lot or a two story building covering half the lot or a three story building covering a third of the lot etc. In New York, buildings generally must leave 30'-deep courtyard space, so an FAR of 3.44 works out to at least 5 stories. If the building is built more shallowly, it could rise higher. All the above plans include height caps as well as FAR caps, but the FAR caps are more important because they limit the actual amount of space the building occupies regardless of its shape.

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