Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Post 26: Submission to CB's 1, 2 and 3, the crippling quorum

As always, with the exception of public figures, I use altered names to protect the individuals in this history.

The CAPZ committee considered and voted on the Pratt options one by one, submitting each as a recommendation to the full CWG for its consideration. This was a long process, since CWG meetings consisted not of individuals who could vote their mind, but representatives of organizations who had to bring their recommendations to their memberships for their vote. In some cases, organizations needed advanced notice to add an item for their meeting agenda. It could take as long as three months before a vote could be held at CWG on an item after CWG had already deliberated on it. For efficiency's sake, CWG would submit to the CB's each option as soon as CWG had finally voted on it. 

The first option was option 1 for area A. CB3 received it well except for the proposal to extend developmental rights transfers (colloquially, "selling air rights") anywhere within the community district, skimming off a percentage of the sale for the support of local arts. The members of the land use committee of CB3 expressed their justifiable concern that such air rights might turn up in places where they were undesirable, threatening a local context and in general giving too much latitude to developers. The committee accepted the option under the condition that CWG delete the air rights/arts support provision, and eventually option 1 was accepted by CB3 with that change.

 The option for area C, specifically relevant to CB1, had a more disturbing fate. CB1 accepted the general proposal, however rejected the affordability levels for the creation of new affordable housing. It had been a key goal of CWG to ensure that new affordable housing would be actually affordable to those who live in the community. Pratt included low income thresholds throughout their affordability requirements. CB1 rejected these, presumably because the average income in CD1 -- the financial district including Tribeca and Battery Park City -- is among the highest in the world, let alone NYC. CB1 altered the affordability range to exclude low income renters. 

While this justification may have made sense to the upscale members of CB1, the affordability bands were intended to serve the Chinatown/Lower East Side community, not the Financial District/Tribeca neighborhood of upscale renters with significant resources and options. The affordability goal is to serve those Chinatown and LES renters who have no such resources and no such options. It is difficult not to view CB1's decision as anything but a means of warding off low income renters, keeping their local real estate values high, and their community protected from the "unwashed masses." As that view would be difficult to deny, just so it would be easy to obtain a decision that it was descriminatory and illegal except that community boards have no legal standing. They are merely advisory, so they can't be effectively sued. Still, I'm surprised that no one exposed CB1's discriminatory act or protested them. On the contrary, CB3's land Use Committee accepted CB1's exclusion of low income renters in their district on the grounds that CB's should stand in solidarity with one another to avoid mutual undermining of what each CB wants for themselves. Such is the politics of the possible. 

CB2 had it easy. Claiming that the Special Little Italy District (SLID) passed in 1977 already adequately protected the areas of Chinatown within CD2, CB2 opted out of any proposals, and Pratt offered them none for that reason. In retrospect, this decision was irresponsible. The recent SoHo/NoHo rezoning upzones areas of Chinatown within CD2. With a little more care, CB2 could have protected these blocks of Chinatown and prevented any possible harmful consequences for the rest of Chinatown.  

The CWG vote on area D, the waterfront in the Two Bridges neighborhood, was 15 in favor, 6 abstaining and none opposed. Since the attendance did not meet quorum, and a passing vote required 16, it failed although there was no opposition. The vote was submitted to the CB's as an informal recommendation, noting that were it not for the large roster of regularly non attendee members, the resolution would have been passed. CWG has ever since considered it as a part of the plan.  

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