Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Harlem Councilwoman Opposes Rezoning Plan

Date: Wed, 2 Apr 2008 10:54:20 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Richard Nunez-Lawrence"
Subject: Harlem Councilwoman Opposes Rezoning Plan
To: reysmont

Harlem Councilwoman Opposes Rezoning Plan
Published: April 2, 2008

City Councilwoman Inez E. Dickens said on Tuesday that she would not support the current proposal for the redevelopment of 125th Street, a plan intended to transform the street into one of the city’s major business and commercial corridors.

Ms. Dickens, who represents central Harlem, holds a key vote on the rezoning because City Council members traditionally follow the lead of the council member who represents the district where rezoning has been proposed.

The proposal was approved last month by the City Planning Commission. It needs the approval of the City Council in order to take effect.

On Tuesday, during a public hearing before the City Council’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee, Ms. Dickens said she was willing to continue negotiating with the Bloomberg administration on the rezoning. The Council has until the end of April to approve, reject or modify the plan.

Among the items Ms. Dickens said she would insist upon are the inclusion of more new housing that would be affordable to Harlem residents, whose average income lags behind that of the rest of Manhattan; greater attention to public health issues like asthma and AIDS; expanding recreation programs; and government aid to 71 businesses that would be displaced by the rezoning.

“Displacement, overdevelopment and gentrification are serious concerns,” Ms. Dickens said. “There will be no rezoning plan signed into law if I do not get the protection for my community.”

Ms. Dickens’s position had been eagerly awaited by the Bloomberg administration and community groups since last fall, when the proposal began to encounter widespread community opposition, some of which came forth at a series of raucous public hearings.

Even after the proposal was approved by the Planning Commission last month, Ms. Dickens declined to state her position publicly.

The proposed rezoning encompasses 24 blocks of Harlem, stretching from Broadway east to Second Avenue, and from 124th to 126th Street.

Proponents of the proposal say the street — a low-rise mix of small shops, shopping malls, apartments and brownstones — is in dire need of improvement, including more uniform zoning rules.

Advocates say new construction for homes and businesses expected to be spurred by the rezoning would create thousands of jobs, provide hundreds of units of new affordable housing, and lead to a greater variety of restaurants and shops. The plan also includes incentives for arts and entertainment ventures to locate on 125th Street.

Testifying at the hearing, Amanda M. Burden, the chairwoman of the Planning Commission, said the proposal had been “carefully crafted” during four and a half years of community meetings.

“This rezoning will result in a rich range of retail and arts and entertainment offerings creating an economic engine for Harlem with over two million square feet of office space and more than 8,200 jobs,” Ms. Burden said.

She said she planned to work with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and the city’s Economic Development Corporation to seek ways to aid the displaced businesses.

Opponents of the rezoning say that most of the housing — about 2,000 of the 2,500 planned new units — would be offered at market rates that most people living in Harlem, which has poverty rates among the highest in the city, could not afford.

Those opposed to the plan also say that historic buildings could be torn down as part of the proposal and that residents have not had enough of a voice in the process.

Most of the more than 100 speakers who testified at the public hearing on Tuesday said they opposed the rezoning.

“It is not in the interest of people living and working in Harlem at this time,” said Jim Carroll, a Harlem resident. “It’s more for people who don’t live there, but who will be coming in with higher incomes.”

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