Monday, May 19, 2008

The contentious town hall

As I'm sure you've heard, the EV/LES Rezoning Town Hall began with a protest of two hundred or so residents.

Notably absent were the two City Council members who will vote on this plan. That means that they do not support the protesting residents' demands and were avoiding the meeting so as not to find themselves in a difficult situation. Most likely they will soon issue statements in strong support of rezoning the Bowery and Chinatown -- in a separate plan.

Unfortunately, a separate plan will take years to complete and will not be implemented without the inclusion of developer interests unless the council members get a commitment now from DCP to protect Chinatown and the Bowery. DCP is seeking approval now for its plan. The approval process is the last moment for leverage over DCP. Unless that leverage is applied, statements of strong support are meaningless.

The Town Hall was described to me as "a dog and pony show." Not ten thousand angry residents could change one detail of this plan: the city wants it; the community board originated it. DCP is not interested in what protesters have to say, and community board members, less seasoned in their political approach, would like to respond punitively towards their opposition (the community), and will, unless the experienced voices of reason there hold sway.

The Borough President, who ran on community board reform, is committed to pretending that he has reformed his community boards to perfection, so he will support whatever the CB decides. That's politics.

The community board and Councilmember Alan Gerson have this one chance to get a commitment from DCP for the Bowery and Chinatown. The responsibility (especially now that the CB is "deeply offended" -- how dare the community express its needs at a community meeting when they should be listening to DCP promote its plan!) mostly rests with Gerson. The City Council gets the final vote and the areas most threatened by development and most vulnerable to it are in his district.

If you were expecting a detailed report on the Town Hall, sorry to disappoint. Unable to attend except for the first two or three minutes, I can't offer much beyond the second-hand. Having had my say here and at Task Force meetings over the last three years, and knowing that nothing I do will change the outcome of this process, I felt my presence would make not the least difference.

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