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Zoning Forum and Disinformation

by Rob Hollander

Friends and neighbors,

1. The CB3 Zoning Task Force will meet Mon. Dec. 18, 6:30PM, 51 Astor Place, (Cooper Union, Engineering Building). To view DCP's plans, schedule, maps, diagrams and related documents, go to their website.

2. False information is being distributed about the LESRRD position on Inclusionary Zoning. In every article that I've written on zoning I have stated prominently, and I will state again now, the upzoning that accompanies IZ may result in a loss of affordable housing through primary and secondary displacement. And since there's no guarantee that developers will take the IZ bonus and create affordable housing, the loss could be quite steep and without any countervailing benefit at all. This is a crucial consideration in assessing the DCP proposal, which features a radical IZ upzoning of Houston, Christie, Delancey and D.

More disinformation being spread around: it's been claimed if the East Village isn't rezoned, we'll be overrun with huge towers. But look around: there's plenty of development in the EV, but no huge towers. All the huge towers are rising south of Houston in the C6 (commercial) zone and on 3rd Avenue, also a C6 zone.

The East Village is not a C6 zone. We are currently zoned residential. To build a noncontextually tall building here under current zoning, the developer needs to merge many lots together, recess the structure and surround it with open space -- playground or park. It's not easily done and the resulting "tower" is usually a tall, thin structure, like the Theater for the New City building (1st Ave, btwn 9th&10th).

Compare that with what is being proposed. Under the proposed zoning, all the buildings must be built to the street wall (not recessed), so large developments will all look like the Avalon building on Bowery at Houston: hulking, dense, oppressive, fortress-like structures, six to eight stories tall, depending on internal density, spanning a broad expanse of street and rising straight up. That's what will likely be built on the Mary Help of Christians site under the proposed zoning.

Which is preferable, the hulking Avalon building or the recessed Theater for the New City building? The Avalon building is, I think, the worst that urban architecture has to offer.

The LES south of Houston needs to be rezoned to exclude huge hotels. But in the EV, hotels are already excluded under our current residential zoning. It's not clear that the proposed rezoning for the EV offers any net improvement. Although the proposed zoning eliminates the community facility bonus, it upzones our base FAR from 3.44 to 4.0. Might it be better just to leave the EV with our current zoning? Many local zoning professionals think so.

If I were choosing a zoning plan for the EV, I would keep the current zoning unless the DCP offered a truly contextual height cap of 60 or 65 feet and an FAR no greater than the current FAR of 3.44. The IZ upzoning of Houston, Christie, Delancey and D to a 5.4 FAR strikes me as an unwise give-away to developers that will dramatically alter the residential and commercial character of the LES, its demographic and its community. Downzoning south of Houston to residential will curb the proliferation of bars IF (and only if) the City Council passes the zoning text change that excludes nightlife from the current commercial use group 6.

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