East Village Downzoning Moves Forward; Chinatown Activists Keep Up the Protesting

The Department of City Planning is forging ahead with its plan to rezone 114 blocks of the East Village and the Lower East Side to limit the height and density of future development, despite allegations of racism from community groups in the Bowery and Chinatown, which were not included in the rezoning.

The DCP released the Environmental Impact Statement for the rezoning on Friday and will certify the proposal today, signaling the beginning of the public review process. Under the plan, most of the streets within the rezoned area—bounded by East 13th on the north, Avenue D on the east, East Houston, Grand, and Delancey on the south, and Bowery and Third on the west—would be downzoned, and zoning bonuses for dormitories and hotels would be abolished.

Houston, Delancey, and Chrystie streets and Avenue D would be upzoned (with an inclusionary housing bonus) to allow for denser development, but the height cap would be cut to 120 feet.

The EIS says one of the objectives of the rezoning is “to address the community’s request for a contextual rezoning,” and Community Board 3 has given its blessing to the current proposal. But the largest demographic group in CB3, the Asian population, does not support the plan, according to the recently formed Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

Whether by “accident or design” the existing boundaries discriminate against the Chinese and Hispanic populations represented by CB3 living south of Delancey and East of Avenue D, said Coalition spokewoman Josephine Lee. Since 59 percent of the residents in the area to be rezoned are white, while only 20 percent are Asian and 35 percent Hispanic, the Coalition is calling for the scope of the EIS to be revised to study the impact on the entire CB3 district.

“The boundaries are not random," Ms. Lee said. "Why is it that rich white people make up the majority of the rezoning plan?

“We’ve gone to elected officials and the DCP and they continue to brush us off and say let’s deal with this later after the displacement has already occurred. Right now, there are already tons of hotels going up in Chinatown and the Bowery and we don’t have any protection.”

The fear is that the Bowery and Chinatown would become more attractive to developers if construction is restricted in the rest of the East Village and the Lower East Side.

The executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, Andrew Berman, said that the two neighborhoods “face a great danger of overdevelopment regardless of the whether the East Village and LES get rezoned.

“The downzoning of one neighborhood doesn’t necessarily push development into adjacent areas,” he said. “These neighborhoods need to get rezoned, and I know CB3 is willing to work to make that happen, but clearly the city is not going to allow [them] to be included in this rezoning.”

CB3 told us last week that they would be happy to work with Chinatown and the Bowery on a second rezoning plan, but said it was too late to revise the current proposal.

East Village Downzoning Moves Forward; Chinatown Activists Keep Up the Protesting