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CAAAV report “Reimagining Rezoning”

April 20, 2013

Last year (2012) CAAAV produced a survey “Reimagining Rezoning,” a clear, intelligent planning vision responding to the needs of Chinatown residents. If there’s a better position statement on zoning, I haven’t seen it. I’m uploading the entire report. Here are a few exerpts (minus ther footnotes):

Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, his administration has aggressively used rezoning as a tool to reshape the City, pushing through more than 100 rezoning plans that cover 20 percent of the City’s land. According to some observers, “[this administration] has done more to reshape New York City than Robert Moses.” More than any other previous administration, Bloomberg has used his power, through the Department of City Planning (DCP), to initiate changes to zoning regulations and advance his probusiness economic development agenda.

According to a study issued in March 2010 by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University, the impact of rezoning has been dramatic, and has tended to increase development pressures in low-income neighborhoods where people of color live, while limiting development in white, wealthy neighborhoods. By downzoning – decreasing the amount of building space (and thus limiting the height of new buildings) – in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods and by upzoning – increasing the allowable height and density of new buildings – in poorer neighborhoods of color, the Bloomberg administration has in essence opened up neighborhoods such as Harlem and Greenpoint/Williamsburg to private developers eager to build new hotels and luxury apartments, while protecting neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights from similar overdevelopment.

Chinatown, which has long been the physical, economic, and cultural center for Chinese immigrants who move to the neighborhood to live, work and play, has not been immune to the forces of gentrification spreading from nearby recently rezoned neighborhoods. Chinatown’s location in Manhattan and proximity to luxury neighborhoods like Soho, the Financial District, and the rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side also make it increasingly attractive to developers looking to build hotels and luxury housing, as well as new businesses catering to a newer, non-immigrant clientele.

As a result, thousands of Chinese families and small, family-owned businesses have been displaced in recent years. The Census 2010 numbers illustrate in broad strokes how gentrification has impacted the neighborhood: Chinatown lost 17 percent of its Chinese residents, or some 6,000 Chinese New Yorkers, over the past decade. Forced evictions and the subsequent loss of affordable housing units (primarily rent stabilized housing) have been central causes of this displacement.

Here are their fundamental principles:

1. Rezoning should benefit residents. CAAAV believes that any rezoning of the Chinatown area should, first and foremost, benefit the long-time community residents. Too often rezoning benefits outside developers that work to transform the neighborhood until it is no longer recognizable. Increased development following a rezoning often leads to unaffordable housing prices, increased landlord harassment, and the displacement of long time residents. It is therefore imperative that the Chinatown rezoning include protections for long-time residents so that they can remain in the community.

2. Rezoning should benefit small, family-owned businesses. A Chinatown rezoning plan should also protect the many family-owned, small businesses in the neighborhood. Rezoning often spurs the development of commercial spaces and opens the door for development of big-box stores and large retail chain stores that quickly price small, local stores out of business. This increased competition for storefronts typically leads to a sharp increase in commercial rents, something many small businesses cannot afford. Many times these businesses are forced to close or relocate, which is what happened in Downtown Brooklyn, after the Atlantic Yards rezoning, and in Harlem after the rezoning of 125thStreet. 8 A Chinatown rezoning plan needs to include protections for small, family-owned businesses.

3. Rezoning should promote affordability. The cost of goods and services in a neighborhood usually increases in the wake of an upzoning and the resulting development boom. Often, new stores cater to wealthier customers that move into neighborhoods after an upzoning. Affordable businesses are the backbone of local economies and need to be protected. A rezoning plan for Chinatown must include protections for businesses that serve low-income community members and provide basic goods at an
affordable price.

4. Rezoning should involve community participation. Community members particularly low-income and immigrant residents are often left out of the debate about rezoning. The public review process, called the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), relies heavily on community boards that, while they include key stakeholders, are not always representative of the views of many community residents. Furthermore, rezoning is often initiated by developers, politicians, and other outside special interests
with their own agenda that may or may not be in line with the needs of residents. Many rezoning plans are therefore not developed to benefit community residents and businesses. CAAAV strongly believes that any plan to rezone Chinatown should be generated by Chinatown residents, who should be involved in every stage of the rezoning process.

(The comment immediately above on community boards is a credit to CAAAV’s integrity and strength.)

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