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CB3's Response to City Planning's Zoning

Development on Houston Street

Development on Delancey Street

Rob Hollander

The Community Board's zoning task force responded in December to the Department of City Planning's upzoning proposal. CB3 proposes to scale back the upzoning and even downzone parts of the neighborhood. To entice DCP to accept this downzoning that will help preserve our neighborhood, CB3 offers a major upzoning of Christie Street with an Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) affordable housing bonus as well. Here are the details followed by an explanation and some links:

1. The CB proposes to downzone side streets and narrow avenues (like B):
Current zoning: FAR 3.44, no height cap
DCP proposal: FAR 4, height cap 80'
**CB proposal: FAR 3, height cap 75'

2. On the wide avenues they propose IZ without upzoning:
Current zoning: 3.44, no height cap
DCP proposal: FAR 4, height cap 80'
**CB proposal: FAR 3.45, IZ bonus to 4.6, height cap 80'

3. On Houston and Delancey they ask for a modest IZ upzoning:
Current zoning: FAR 3.44, no height cap
DCP proposal: FAR 5.4, IZ bonus to 7.2, 120' cap
**CB proposal: FAR 4.5, IZ bonus to 6, 100' cap

4. They propose a radical upzoning of Christie Street:
Current zoning: FAR 3.44, no cap
DCP proposal: FAR 5.4, IZ bonus to 7.2, 120' cap
**CB proposal: FAR 6, IZ bonus to 8, 150' cap

5. In addition, the CB asks that a) the city guarantee that 30% of new housing be affordable, including lower tiers of income; b) anti-harassment and anti-demolition measures and a legal services fund for tenant protection be included; c) the zoning area be surveyed for historic landmarking; d) DCP gather information on commercial use south of Houston (hotels and nightlife); e) DCP commit to no commercial overlay on St. Mark's and f) DCP commit to a timeline.

While there's a lot to admire in this proposal, a few questions remain for me. If the affordable housing is not built on site, the 4.6 bonus could be an incentive to empty and demolish existing structures. Since renovating existing affordable housing counts towards the IZ bonus, all a developer has to do is spend pocket change on a local renovation in order to build 100% luxury to FAR 4.6. This could threaten 1st Avenue, where about 30% of the buildings are under current FAR and some are not protected by rent regulation. License to build to 4.6 FAR could displace residents; the context of the avenue, which today looks almost exactly as it did during the Civil War -- nearly everything there was built before 1867 -- could be lost. Width is not the sole determinant of street character. Concern both for residents and for history argue for a more respectful treatment of 1st Avenue than is contained in this plan.

The proposal for Christie Street raises many concerns about overcrowding and the lack of adequate infrastructure to handle such added density. Also, once towers are built there, it becomes harder down the road to argue for the preservation of the rest of the neighborhood. The Christie Street upzoning, however, is key to the proposal: without it, DCP will not likely accept the scale-back the CB wants throughout the rest of the district.

It remains to be seen whether DCP will accept any of this, but at least with this proposal CB3 has given DCP some sense of community will and direction: to encourage affordable housing but not at the expense of our neighborhood and its current residents.

More information about zoning, including Zoning for Dummies, can be found at savethelowereastside.blogspot.com


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