City officials unveiled a massive rezoning last night for East Harlem, where the administration hopes to encourage towers as tall as 30 stories, less parking for new buildings, and more ground floor retail.
The de Blasio administration revealed its plans for the neighborhood during a meeting of Manhattan community board 11 on East 101st Street. Neighbors who attended seemed surprisingly neutral, especially compared to the controversial, impassioned protests that have inflamed rezoning meetings in East New York and the Bronx.
The new zoning would mostly run along the north-south avenues, stretching from Park to Second avenues between 104th and 126th Streets, and from Fifth to Second avenues between 126th and 132nd Streets.
Planners hope to dramatically boost housing density along several blocks of Park, Second, and Third avenues. Under the new zoning, buildings could reach up to 30 or 35 stories, mostly on blocks the city considers under-developed. The aim is to pump as many new housing units out of the neighborhood as possible, and that most new developments include affordable apartments. The blocks with the densest zoning will be mapped with Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, a mechanism approved in March that requires developers to rent at least a quarter of their apartments at below-market rates.
Lexington Avenue will get height limits that cap new buildings at 11 stories, and zoning for some side streets along Lexington will limit new construction to eight stories.
Another major zoning change will come in the form of a special “East Harlem Corridors” district. The special district will apply on Park, Lexington, Second, and Third avenues and come with improvements that remind us of the city-wide Zoning for Quality and Affordability changes passed by the City Council earlier this year. The city has decided to waive parking requirements for all new residential buildings, but builders will still have to include parking for commercial and community facility uses that exist alongside apartments in new developments.
The rules for the special district will also allow more flexibility in designing new buildings along the elevated viaduct that ferries Metro North trains along Park Avenue. Planners want to require ground floor retail, large windows on ground floors, and buildings that line up with the street wall. New buildings will also set back before the viaduct, to prevent new skyscrapers from darkening Park Avenue even more than the train tracks already do.
And finally, the city is going to tinker with the special transit zoning created in the ’70s to accommodate the Second Avenue Subway. The administration is going to offer “incentives to integrate subway infrastructure into new buildings” (whatever that means!). It hopes to prevent the kind of ugly, faceless ventilation buildings that cropped up with the new 7 train extension to Hudson Yards. Developers won’t be penalized for valuable floor area that they are forced to devote to subway infrastructure, like ventilation or station entrances.
The two Manhattan planners who presented the new zoning couldn’t offer any estimates on how affordable the new apartments might be, how much new housing could be constructed, or how many affordable units might be developed.
After the mayor announced that East Harlem would be rezoned in 2014, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito convened a series of public meetings to write a neighborhood plan driven by local groups and activists. That framework, the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, was released in February. It demanded that at least half of all new units become affordable housing, and that at least 20 percent of new apartments go to low-income families.
The Department of City Planning says it tried to shape the city’s plan based on the Speaker’s neighorhood plan, and pieces of the community-driven framework did make it in. The City Council Speaker will also play an integral role in the rezoning process, because she represents the neighborhood on the Council. In that role, she has the final say over affordability levels, the details of the plan, and whether the Council will actually approve the new zoning.
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