West Harlem Rezoning Still Too Big, Say Locals Hoping Council Will Fight Back

Does a big street call for big buildings? (Bridge & Tunnel Club)

Neighbors want to protect historic buildings like these. (Bridge & Tunnel Club)

Recently, the City Planning Commission approved plans for the rezoning of West Harlem, a plan meant to protect the smaller-scale of the neighborhood. Some locals believe it still allows for outsized development in some places, specifically along the 145th Street corridor. They have written a letter to the City Council, which will make the final decision on the rezoning in the next month or so, urging it to reduce the height of buildings on 145th Street. The letter, provided to The Observer by a concerned citizen, can be read in full after the jump.

To the City Council and All New Yorkers,

In 2007, responding to Columbia University’s expansion plans in West Harlem and in the face of significant development pressure, the community embarked on the rezoning of a 90 block area to protect the character of the neighborhood, its long term residents, and businesses. Community Board 9, and the City Planning Commission, with the strong support of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer initiated a rezoning study of the area—the first since 1961.

CB 9, the Department of City Planning, the MBP and elected officials worked tirelessly through numerous public meetings, presentations and discussions to finalize a contextual rezoning resolution that was adopted by CB 9 in June. CB 9 and the CPC agreed on every item in the proposal except for mid-block area of West 145 Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. There the City Planning Commission wanted to increase the height permitted from eight (R7A) to 12 stories (R8A IH) on a street comprised mostly of six story buildings. The “IH”, or inclusionary housing, would provide developers a 33 percent bonus of buildable floor area in exchange for including 20 percent affordable units in their finished construction. The net amount of affordable units for the mid-block area of West 145 Street would be 41.

Although one of the community’s priorities is affordable housing, at a well attended public hearing on June 18, not one person spoke in support of R8A IH on the block. The consensus was that the trade off of 41 affordable units was not worth the out-of-scale 12 story heights on West 145 Street mid-block. There were other prospective locations in West Harlem for affordable housing that could contextually support those 41 units. The increased density on West 145 Street would also create issues of out-of-scale traffic, parking, noise, air pollution, wind and shadows, as well as additional pressure on the public transport system and infrastructure. The Community strongly favored R7A.

In spite of the clearly stated desires of neighborhood residents and CB9 and statements from the CPC and the MBP that they would respect the wishes of the community, MBP Stringer and the CPC have thrown their considerable weight behind the plan to allow 12 story buildings on West 145 Street mid-block. Their decision not only comes as a shock, but is deflating to all those who have worked so hard for years on every block of the rezoning.

The proposal now moves to the City Council where Councilman Robert Jackson will likely cast the deciding vote before it becomes law. We respectfully appeal to Councilman Jackson to support the wishes of his constituents and vote against R8A IH in favor of R7A on West 145th Street.

Concerned Citizens for the Contextual Rezoning of West Harlem

West Harlem Rezoning Still Too Big, Say Locals Hoping Council Will Fight Back