Even from the perspective of the district’s business-and-landlord group, the plan’s residential aspect is unwelcome.
“We’re for the rezoning of 125th Street with one exception,” said the chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, Eugene Giscombe.
Adding housing would be like throwing “cold water” on the growing commercial corridor, Mr. Giscombe said, as many types of retail do not coexist well with higher-end apartments.
“We want to continue to grow the opportunities for retail and commercial development, and that’s not going to happen if residential is allowed to happen,” Mr. Giscombe added. “There’s plenty of space in Harlem for residential development without having to come on 125th Street.”
However, Ms. Burden—known for her insistence on staff visiting and spending time in communities that are being rezoned—believes apartments are necessary for the street to adopt the vibrant street life the city envisions.
“We want this street to be active, and the community does, too, day and night,” she told The Observer. “That comes with the 24/7 of combined residential and commercial development.”
Ms. Burden stressed that the goal has always been to make a thriving commercial and cultural corridor, and apartments are by no means the focus. Developers can also adopt other city-administered incentives that encourage low- and moderate-income housing.
In Harlem, though, worries about gentrification and displacement seem to be particularly acute, as there is a major disparity between the incomes of the broader community and residents in new condos. With a note of disgust, elected officials frequently cite the tendency of some realtors to brand the South Harlem area around West 116th Street as “SoHa”; Columbia University’s proposed expansion into a warehouse district in West Harlem lit a passionate opposition within the community before it was approved by the City Council in December.
When the 125th Street proposal goes before the City Council, a necessary step for approval that is due by May, eyes are resting on Councilwoman Inez Dickens, a real estate developer and daughter of longtime Harlem Assemblyman Lloyd Dickens, who represents the portion of 125th Street where the largest upzoning is proposed. The community boards on the east and west ends of the corridor recommended that the city approve the rezoning, and many of the other elected officials in the area are watching to follow Ms. Dickens’ lead.
Ms. Dickens declined to comment, though she has previously said she has concerns about the plan, including the residential component and the tall height limits, which would allow for buildings up to 290 feet tall.