Monday, March 24, 2008

Upzoning Chrystie Street for luxury housing

The EV/LES rezoning will save much of the LES south of Houston from luxury hotels, but it will push that development onto the Bowery and into Chinatown, which remain unprotected. To reject the rezoning now entails losing the LES, so we are cornered into accepting a rezoning that promises to accelerate luxury development in Chinatown and the Bowery, where that development is already spreading.

It troubles me that Community Board 3 currently supports a planning alternative that upzones Chrystie Street to fourteen stories (from current F.A.R .6 to F.A.R. 8.5), right on the edge of Chinatown. The CB maintains that the inclusionary upzoning will bring 20% affordable housing to the neighborhood. That's still a luxury upzoning to 6.8 F.A.R. And the Department of City Planning (DCP) allows that affordable 20% (1.7 F.A.R.) to be already existing affordable housing, provided the developer renovate it. Even without the IZ bonus, this alternative upzones Chrystie to 6.5 F.A.R.-- that's an upzoning with no affordable housing component at all.

In the worst-case scenario, the CB is inviting a 100% luxury upzoning to 145 feet on Chrystie Street for the sake of a few renovations and no guarantee of any new affordable housing. That's the worst case. When considering development strategies in NYC, the wise assume the worst.

By contrast, the DCP plan actually downzones Chrystie Street, although it allows additional bulk with affordable housing. The DCP plan offers almost as much affordable housing as the CB-supported alternative, but with no luxury upzoning. In fact, DCP actually downzones luxury even with all the bonuses.

I hope the CB will reject the Chrystie Street inclusionary upzoning alternative and accept DCP's downzoning. I don't see how our local community can accept an alternative that brings additional luxury development for only 0.26 F.A.R. (roughly one apartment) more affordable housing than the DCP plan, which actually downzones for luxury.

The numbers speak for themselves:

Current Zoning of Chrystie, C6-1
FAR 6.5 Community Facilities

DCP Rezoning of Chrystie, C6-2A
FAR 5.4 (no affordable housing)
FAR 7.2 (with 20% affordable housing or renovations)
FAR 6.5 for Community Facilities

CB3-supported alternative for Chrystie, C6-3A
FAR 6.5 (no affordable housing)
FAR 8.5 (with 20% affordable housing or renovations)
FAR 7.5 for Community Facilities

As you can see, if CB3 continues to support the alternative, it is asking for 25% larger buildings on Chrystie than are currently allowed, more than twice as large as what is currently built there. This alternative would provide at best 1.7 F.A.R. of affordable housing/renovations along with 0.8 F.A.R. of added luxury over current zoning -- 1.04 luxury F.A.R. more than the DCP plan. And if the developer doesn't take the affordable housing bonus and builds no affordable housing at all, this alternative still gives the developer a 0.5 F.A.R. luxury upzoning. In short, the alternative upzones Chrystie Street for luxury in all circumstances.

The DCP plan would downzone Chrystie Street by 10% from current 6 to 5.4 F.A.R. With affordable housing/renovations, DCP's plan requires 1.44 F.A.R. of affordable housing/renovations, but less additional luxury than what's allowed in the current zoning. DCP's plan allows a maximum of 5.76 F.A.R. luxury, which is 0.24 less luxury than current zoning allows.

In other words, the DCP plan provides almost as much affordable housing/renovations as the alternative, while consistently downzoning luxury F.A.R.

The alternative would allow .8 F.A.R. more luxury than current zoning. The DCP plan allows .24 F.A.R. less luxury than current zoning allows.

Even under the best-case scenario in which we actually get new affordable housing, the DCP plan provides virtually all the "affordable" housing the alternative provides, without the alternative's egregious luxury upzoning. So even accepting the CB's faith that inclusionary upzoning will bring us affordable housing, the alternative has virtually no benefit to the community over the DCP plan. And its price is high: the alternative upzones the street for luxury development without inclusionary upzoning, and significantly upzones it for luxury with inclusionary upzoning.

I hope CB3 changes its position on this alternative that will flood Chinatown with gentrification. It is inconceivable that the local community would welcome significantly more luxury housing than even DCP proposes and without any significant benefit -- possibly no benefit at all.

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