Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Zoning Hearing

The hearing yesterday showed a community deeply divided. All the influential political and institutional players in Community District 3 lined up in favor of the rezoning. Opposed to the rezoning were the grassroots, especially from areas in immediate danger of luxury hotel development that the plan leaves unprotected, like the Bowery and Chinatown.

Humor was provided by those electeds, including the Borough President, who clearly didn't know the details of the rezoning but spoke in support anyway. The coordination of power was evident throughout.

More cynical was Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), which packed the hall with a large group in orange T-shirts to shout their support -- for reasons that were unclear since the plan does not protect Chinatown.

Word has it that AAFE is in on recent meetings to plot a rezoning of Chinatown, a feeding frenzy for the developers, their fronts and shills and all the poverty pimps. No doubt AAFE will get their piece of the pie. They know where their bread is buttered.

The only disruption at the hearing occurred when an AAFE supporter in orange T-shirt stood up from the audience and tried to shout down testimony opposing the plan. In later testimony AAFE accused the plan's opponents of being disruptive. The delicate audience was not so impolite as to point out that AAFE's glass house has a broken window.

Perhaps the most significant testimony of the day came from a Judson Memorial chaplain who denounced City Planning's zoning study for failing to address adequately or at all the impact of the rezoning on the communities of the Lower East Side. That zoning study (the Draft Environmental Impact Statement) is the legal basis of the rezoning action. It presents the statistics but ignores or downplays the impacts. Both the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and Hunter College presented preliminary studies that give a much deeper and clearer picture of the impact of the rezoning.

In the street outside the hall, a large crowd from the Coalition to Protect Chinatown/Lower East Side protested City Planning's refusal to provide any zoning protection to the low-income neighborhoods surrounding the zoning area. Downtown councilmember Gerson addressed them saying he opposes the plan. But his testimony indoors was identical to most of the supporters of the plan: he will support it if the percent of affordable housing is increased. He also asked for protection for Chinatown and the Bowery, but he didn't condition his support for the current plan on it, so it was a feckless, toothless demand, no more teeth than a toad.

The plan provides height caps on new buildings throughout the zoning area but brings a projected 53.9% increase in development (height caps don't limit the quantity of development, they merely redistribute it among more buildings). Only 10% of the total development will be affordable housing.

The plan also ends the community facility bonus which was used to build above current FAR. If there were big money in dormitories and hospitals, the EV would be sprouting huge facilities everywhere, just as the Bowery and south of Houston are growing huge hotels. But there's no money in such facilities, which is why at most we see an occasional doctor's office used to boost FAR a couple of stories. The last dorm built in the residential EV was built with the intent to convert to residential apartments. That's where the big money has been.

Here are the numbers from DCP's study:

Projected development in square feet

NEW PLAN - - - - - - CURRENT
in 10 years (sq ft) - - - - - - in 10 years (sq ft)

commercial sites
396,863 - - - - - - - - 450,928

25,374 - - - - - - - - - 25,374

total commercial
422,237 - - - - - - - - 475,302

residential sites
3,891,399 - - - - - - 2,289,681

216,853 - - - - - - - - 178,529

total residential
4,108,252 - - - - - - 2,468,210

Total projected development
4,530,462 - - - - - 2,943,512

53.9% more development under the rezoning than would occur under current zoning.

total affordable units under the new plan:
456 (comes to less than 456,000 sf)
or around 10% of the total development


Anonymous said...

Now that the Borough President has approved the rezoning what is the next step in the process? I believe it now goes to the mayor and he has 60 or 90 days to approve/disapprove?

Is that the final step in the rezoning process?

rob said...

The City Planning Commission will issue a final plan within 60 days of receiving the Borough President's comments (he submitted August 11). City Council will have 50 days to hold a hearing and decide on it. Their decision is final, although the mayor has five days to veto.

So the whole process must be complete no later than November 30, if I have counted right.