Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Testimony on EV/LES rezoning

There are at least four legal, as well as many substantive, problems with the EV/LES rezoning proposal currently before the City Planning Commission.

Four legal problems:
1) CB3 Task Force members who voted on the proposal represented conflicts of interest as they or the organizations they direct stand to gain directly from the rezoning,
2) FIOA-obtained documents show that Chinatown residents were systematically excluded from the discussions of a rezoning that will impact their neighborhood as much or more than the rezoning area itself,
3) the Bowery alternative was not included in the DEIS and
4) the availability of air rights is not clearly rendered or studied in the DEIS.

Re (1), CB3 Task Force members included the Director of LES People's Mutual Housing and the Director of Cooper Square Mutual Housing, both of which will directly gain from the Inclusionary Housing bonuses included in the plan, the Executive Director of GOLES and the Executive Director of Cooper Square Committee, both of which are involved in affordable housing management and will expand their operations and funding base through IZ-created housing in the plan, a partner in the Red Square development, which will receive additional residential market-rate FAR under the rezoning. All voted on the proposal.

Re (2), the Chinatown community was systematically excluded from the Community Board 3 rezoning discussions and process. No less than $50,000 was spent by CB3 on outreach to Chinatown during the rezoning discussions, yet the rezoning was not mentioned or even hinted at in all that outreach. (I have, through the FOIA, all the documents related to the $50,000 grant and how it was spent.)

Re (3), at the June, 2007 Scoping Hearing for the EV/LES rezoning, Lower East Side Residents for Responsible Development along with the Coalition to Save the East Village and Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, all requested that inclusion of the Bowery in the rezoning be considered as an alternative in the EIS. DCP failed to respect this community request, although their guidelines require the consideration of alternatives.

Re (4), the availability of air rights is the single most significant determinant in this rezoning. If air rights have been consumed in the development rush south of Houston Street east of Bowery, then this rezoning is too late and will provide little or no benefit to that area.

Substantive problems: As proposed, the rezoning will disperse the communities of CD3 and will result in a net loss of affordable housing. Lower East Side Residents for Responsible Development recommends that the East Village not be rezoned until some protection is in place for Chinatown and the Bowery. Reasons are given below.

1. The rezoning will bring 53.9% more development. With the Inclusionary Zoning "A" application amendments, the EV/LES rezoning will add 53.9% more projected development over what would be developed under current zoning (vide: Notice of Completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, pp. S-7,S-8, table S-1 and pp. S-39, S-40, table S-6; adding commercial and residential square footage together).

It is hard to believe that this rezoning is being advertised and sold to the Lower East Side community as a downzoning.

2. Only 10% affordable housing. Worse, only about 10% of the projected new square footage under the amended rezoning will be affordable housing. Subtracting projected commercial square footage, still only 11.6% of new housing units under this rezoning plan will be affordable housing, very little of which will be available to low-income households.

In plain terms, 90% of the development planned under this rezoning will be market-rate intrusion into the neighborhood under the best-case scenario. This rezoning is a give-away of the East Village/Lower East Side to market-rate development that will bury forever the communities of this place and its unique historical character.

3. Wrong area is being rezoned. Current R7-2 zoning appears to be working well to protect the East Village. Nothing out-of-scale has been built in the East Village in the last five years. Development continues at a rapid pace, but it is all contextual. The East Village obviously does not need immediate zoning protection. But current C6-1 zoning is allowing the Bowery and Chinatown to be decimated. The Bowery and Chinatown are in immediate danger of out-of-scale overdevelopment and community displacement. Yet the Bowery and Chinatown are excluded from the rezoning while the EV is being rezoned.

DCP's figures show that the rezoning's "contextual" height caps will not limit development; they will merely redistribute development. Our current low FAR caps have successfully limited development in the residential East Village. 53.9% more development in the next ten years is not protection. We will see warehousing of apartments, phony demolitions and accompanying wholesale evictions and rooftop additions scarring the skyline on avenues that have maintained their context and character since the Civil War.

Why the EV/LES plan should not be implemented as proposed:
The Department of City Planning's DEIS failed to investigate the single most important determinant in evaluating the proposed EV/LES rezoning: the availability of air rights throughout the rezoning area. If air rights are not available in the rezoning area under current FAR, then the rezoning will do little or no good to Community District 3 but will do great and irreversible harm.

Lower East Side Residents for Responsible Development asks that the availability of air rights be investigated before any determination be made on this rezoning. In any case, the rezoning should be delayed for the following reasons:

A. The EV is not in current danger of overdevelopment -- nothing out-of-scale has been built there in the last five years, probably for lack of air rights (current FAR is below the local average bulk and upscale speculation is not directed towards community facilities) -- so the contextual rezoning offers little or no protective benefit for the EV.

B. The rezoning will allow a greater as-of-right FAR, encouraging out-of-scale overdevelopment.
i. The entirety of Avenue D and parts of the residential section of Houston Street will be given as-of-right FAR increases, rekindling the kind of out-of-scale overdevelopment that ended five years ago in the residential EV. This overdevelopment will compound displacement pressures on a community already suffering under the onslaught of speculators, the loss of community-oriented businesses and residential displacement.

Even an already out-of-scale development like Red Square on Houston Street, which under current zoning cannot be expanded for residential use, will receive in the rezoning plan a boost of nearly twice its current residential FAR (this was confirmed by personal communication from DCP).

ii. The failure to reduce the FAR to contextual levels on Chrystie and Delancey Streets will encourage upscale developments there that will radically, pervasively and unrecognizably transform those low-income neighborhoods and the low-income neighborhoods surrounding those streets, uprooting unique, historic ethnic thriving low-income communities.

iii. The upzoning of Chrystie Street to 145 ft and 8.5 FAR will profoundly and adversely alter the Chinatown and Bowery communities, bringing rapid gentrification to a low-income but thriving neighborhood in no need of gentrification. Secondary displacement will spread throughout Chinatown and the Bowery uprooting the community and its many businesses.

iv. The end of air right sales entailed by the height caps will encourage owners of small properties to enlarge to the newly increased as-of-right FAR, since they will no longer be able to sell their FAR. We will see gut renovations accompanied by wholesale evictions, warehousing of apartments in anticipation of redevelopment to full FAR and rooftop additions scarring the skyline of avenues that have preserved their context since the Civil War.

C. This rezoning protects the EV at the expense of the Bowery and Chinatown, C6-1 zones vulnerable to upscale hotel development. Leaving Chinatown and the Bowery unprotected will encourage a rash of speculation and overdevelopment there. These historic neighborhoods will disappear before anything can be done to protect them.

D. The rezoning will cause a net loss of affordable housing. The affordable housing brought into the neighborhood by the Inclusionary Zoning provisions also brings with it 80% market-rate housing and as-of-right FAR increases in addition to the IZ bonuses. The rezoning also allows non IZ as-of-right FAR increases which reduce the percent of affordable housing relative to overall projected development to about 10%. The effect of gentrification and community upheaval, offsetting the 10% affordable housing introduced, will almost certainly cause a net loss of affordable housing. Furthermore, most of the newly created affordable housing will be unavailable to the majority of the residents in the Community District 3, whose incomes are below most required levels. Creating affordable housing is a laudable goal but creating it through upzonings and market-rate bonuses that destroy neighborhoods is a sham, the human cost of which is too great to support.

E. Approval of this rezoning will leave the Bowery and Chinatown out in the cold. The political will which created, pushed and realized this rezoning plan originated from the EV, from the dedication of Councilmember Margarita Lopez and the deep-pockets of the East Village Community Coalition located on Avenue B. There has been no evidence of political will, funding or dedication, beyond the will of the residents themselves, to protect the surrounding areas. Meetings concerning the future of Chinatown have specifically excluded Chinatown residents, while various funded development and business interests have been brought to the table.

F. Consequences for the Bowery and Chinatown. It must be abundantly clear to any canny, experienced observer of honesty and intelligence that if this rezoning is approved without a protective plan for the excluded areas, those excluded areas will be left without support, influence and funding for the protection they need. Current gestures to protect . Chinatown and the Bowery will leave them prey to development interests, development fronts, poverty pimps and agents of gentrification.

In other words, approval for this plan, which has money and influence behind it, must be immediately tied to protection for Chinatown and the Bowery or else Chinatown and the Bowery are lost. Protection for Chinatown and the Bowery cannot be left to a separate future plan that will be a feeding frenzy. Once this current plan is approved, and the EV movers and influencers achieve their ends, there will be no political will to offer meaningful protection against that frenzy.

If, however, approval for an EV rezoning is made contingent on a program to protect Chinatown and the Bowery, the EV political will which brought the current rezoning proposal thus far will be brought to bear on the protection of Chinatown and the Bowery. The entire district will benefit by the collective influence of each part of the district in mutual interest, both those in need of help and protection and those capable of helping and protecting.

G. The discriminatory character of this rezoning. Below are figures from the 2000 census which show that the rezoning is geared towards a white population and excludes the overwhelming majority non-white population of the district. If freedom of speech does not include the freedom to speak truths, then that freedom has no purpose. Here is the truth:

According to 2000 census data, 70% of the white people in CD3 live in the area to be rezoned. In fact, in 2000 there were more white people in the rezoning area than Asians and Hispanics combined:
Whites in rezoning area: 32,672
Asians in rezoning area: 16,070
Latinos in rezoning area: 15,572
Blacks in rezoning area: 4,286

We all know that since 2000 upscale whites have flocked to the rezoning area. Now look at who lives outside the rezoning area in the district:
CD3 whites outside the rezoning area: 13,724
CD3 Asians outside the rezoning area: 41,801
CD3 Latinos outside the rezoning area: 28,623
CD3 blacks outside the rezoning area: 7,347

There are 5.6 times more non-whites than whites outside the rezoning area in CD3 (whites: 13,742; non-whites 77,771). Inside the rezoning area, rapid development, though contextual, has brought more whites into the neighborhood; they are no doubt the majority today. Outside the rezoning area non-whites remain the hugely overwhelming majority.

These truths speak for themselves.

Summary and compromise proposal: the rezoning plan will bring at least a 53% and possibly as much as a 124% increase in development than no rezoning, according to DCP's DEIS, only 5% or at best 9% of which will be affordable housing. The rezoning is, according to DCP's DEIS, an upzoning for market-rate development, any way you look at it.

Currently, the residential EV (R7-2) is in no urgent need of rezoning. Chinatown and the Bowery are -- they are C6-1 zones, prone to pervasive and devastating hotel development.

A possible compromise to consider: proceed with the C4-4A rezoning of the C6-1 zone south of Houston, from Forsyth to Pitt Street (included in the DEIS) without the IZ upzonings, and delay the rezoning of the East Village until some protection is in place for Chinatown and the Bowery.

I appeal to the integrity and strength of character of those behind this rezoning plan to support such a compromise.

Rob Hollander, Ph.D.,
Lower East Side Residents for Responsible Development

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