Scroll down for details of the resolution. First enthusiasm:
Last night's Community Board meeting was the most engaging, most substantive, by far the most exciting, intelligent, best full community board meeting I've seen in years -- maybe ever. The community on all sides of the rezoning came out to voice their views, often passionately, fiercely; argued them, challenged each other, fought and even yelled, but always over the issues, always over content.
The community in attendance -- both pro and con -- presented themselves last night as involved and committed to a depth that was inspiring. It was a heated, angry evening, it was confrontational, but it was a meeting -- all sides met, all views were argued, all views were questioned, all views were disparaged, all views were defended: all views were heard.
The highlights: Damaris Reyes' eloquent defense of the rezoning plan; Josephine Lee's lucid presentation of its shortcomings to a crowd of antagonistic questions. And these were just the best of the best. There were many more.
And low moments too -- a few misunderstandings, mistaken assumptions -- hardly worth mention. On the whole it was a truly remarkable meeting, in every way befitting such a climactic of moment, such a turning point, for our neighborhood.
It was the first time the whole and complex and far-reaching and weighty significance of this rezoning was presented in all its aspects by all its stakeholders.
(Almost all: developers remain silent.)
The community board members themselves broadly and vigorously joined in the debate. Not just the usual suspects either. The long-taciturn got up and stole the place of the loud-mouthed last night. And tempers flew -- oooooh yes! and often! -- yet against this continually eruptive background, the issues remained in the fore; it was all about the issues and even the minute details of the issues. It was content that drew anger last night, not tactics; it was truth on all sides that was debated, not mere representations.
The community board, btw, voted to approve the rezoning. That was a foregone conclusion, not news. Their approval resolution includes the following modifications some of which the City Planning Commission may see fit to adopt and all of which Rosie Mendez will bring to City Council for approval in the final package (these are my paraphrases, not their wording):
The final rezoning legislative package should
1. prevent non commercial storefronts from being turned to commercial use
2. specifically restrict non bar/restaurant commercial storefronts from being turned to bar/restaurant use
3. restrict the demolition, enlargement or alteration of residential buildings
4. require affordable housing in any construction on all the wide avenues in the zoning area
5. require that 30% of all construction in the area be affordable at three levels: 30% of the affordable housing should be available only to people earning low incomes, 50% lower moderate , 20% upper moderate.
6. place 75' height caps on all narrow streets, including those south of Houston
7. require energy efficiency for all tax-abated construction
8. create a legal defense fund to defend threatened tenants
9. turn the Eldridge and Forsyth designation from commercial to residential.
In addition, the CB resolution asks the city to review the zoning of excluded areas to "1) prevent overdevelopment, speculation and displacement, 2) encourage affordable housing and 3) preserve the building character in those areas."
I'd just point out that under any 80-20 program, item (2), construed as the construction of new affordable units, is incompatible with (1) -- if affordable housing can be constructed only with the inclusion of four times as many luxury units, then affordable housing entails "overdevelopment, speculation and displacement." It's a tough one. It's the tough one.
My suggestion: for thriving, non-depressed low-income neighborhoods, off-site affordable housing is preferable to on-site. Build affordable housing in the community and let developers take their market-rate housing far away to already gentrified neighborhoods.
If the low-income community is commercially thriving, bringing outside money and supplying local jobs, there is no danger of depressing the neighborhood with exclusively affordable housing. Mixed housing, under such conditions, will only raise real estate values causing gentrification, speculation and displacement. The ideal of mixed housing, though politically correct as a theoretical principle, should be carefully rethought from specific context to specific context and not applied with too broad a brush.
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