“Amanda Burden is rich, rich, rich! You’re destroying our community and making it white because you can’t find a restaurant! You’re a socialite and a horrible person!”
So shouted Harlem residents at Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden toward the end of Monday’s contentious commission meeting about the Bloomberg administration’s plan to rezone 125th Street to encourage denser development. The commission voted 11-2 to approve the rezoning. It now moves to the City Council for a final vote.
Michael Henry Adams, a Harlem resident and historian, said his neighborhood will become “a rich, white community where they are going to give bonuses to black cultural institutions so that black people will be able to entertain the rich, white people who live in Harlem; and Harlem will become a museum of what used to be, a museum of the black experience that no longer exists.”
Other audience members chimed in, booing Ms. Burden and vowing to fight the rezoning. “Security, security, security!,” Ms. Burden called. Mr. Adams left.
Why the vehement opposition? Many see the 125th Street rezoning as a precusor to a more rapid gentrification of all of Harlem, one that will turn the historic African-American neighborhood into a haven of luxury condos and higher-end retail.
The commission had modified the zoning proposal after a public review that included over 170 meetings between officials and residents. But, in the end, only board members Angela Cavaluzzi and Karen Phillips—who was appointed by city Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum in 2002—voted no. The audience cheered them. The audience booed the former head of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, Richard Eaddy, as well as Shirley McRae, former head of Commuity Board 2 in Brooklyn. Eruptions of “sell-out” and “traitor” greeted their votes.
Both Ms. Cavaluzzi and Ms. Phillips voted no because, they said, the modifications to the original zoning proposal don’t respond enough to the community’s grievances.
In response to concerns about residential development, the Planning Commission added a measure to prohibit residential lobbies on 125th Street for buildings that are accessible on avenues or on 126th and 124th streets. Though Ms. Cavaluzzi called the restriction “innovative,” she said it does not “go far enough to address concerns over residential development.”
Ms. Phillips said the rezoning “would be better if it were part of a comprehensive rezoning of Central Harlem.” She said the measure to give incentives to developers to provide affordable housing to residents earning less than 40 percent of the median income was a step in the right direction, but should be encouraged outside of the 125th Street corridor.
Nellie Hester Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council held an impromptu press conference on Reade Street following the vote. She told reporters that her organization plans to sue the Planning Commission and make a FOIA request to “determine the incestuous relations that are behind this so-called comprehensive plan that will contribute to the population decline of Harlem’s African-American citizens.
“We agree the area needs to be rezoned,” Ms. Bailey said. “What we do not need is to change a residential corridor into an upper-income luxury housing corridor, which is exactly what is going to happen when they put 2,300 units of luxury housing in a three-block radius.
“The Environmental Impact Statement said we are going to loose nearly 1,000 existing jobs, but what the EIS concluded was that this was of no relevance to the economic vitality of the region; 71 businesses on 125th street will be gone. We know that the displacement is going to be broad and deep because Harlem is already under the full throttle of gentrification. This rezoning will only make it worse.”