Inwood rezoning battle could take months. Will developers wait?

Controversial case looks likely to reach state’s highest court

TRD New York /
Jun.June 25, 2020 07:00 AM
The fate of Inwood’s rezoning could take months to play out in New York’s court system. (Google Maps, iStock)

The fate of Inwood’s rezoning could take months to play out in New York’s court system. (Google Maps, iStock)

A resolution on Inwood’s controversial rezoning now appears to be months away, testing the patience of developers who were banking on it.

During a hearing this month, an Appellate Division judge hinted at skepticism among her colleagues about the zoning change, which prompted opponents to sue. The de Blasio administration’s revision would allow for new residential properties, potentially transforming — and some contend gentrifying — the area.

Justice Rosalyn Richter said that members of the appeals panel are concerned that the city does not study the racial impact of land-use actions, which was why a lower-court judge annulled Inwood’s rezoning last year.

If at least two of the five judges dissent, the losing side can appeal to New York’s highest court. (If fewer than two dissent, the loser can still petition for the right to appeal.) That would push a resolution back for months at least. And a few developers have already said they won’t wait that long.

Joy Construction and Maddd Equities had planned to build 611 apartments at 3875 Ninth Avenue under the new zoning. Joy’s Eli Weiss said the team will likely scrap those plans in favor of an industrial project if it seems like the rezoning will take years. Warehouse projects have become more profitable as e-commerce has grown recently.

“Something is going to get built there,” Weiss said. “We’ve always believed that building low- and moderate-income housing was the highest and best use. But clearly there are voices in the city that feel differently.”

The opponents generally want only affordable housing, which requires subsidy and cannot be built at the scale that city planners say is needed and warranted in Inwood.

The City Council in August 2018 approved Inwood’s rezoning, which was projected to add 5,000 units of affordable housing and bring $200 million in city funds to the neighborhood. But in December, New York Supreme Court Justice Verna Saunders nullified the rezoning, ruling in favor of neighborhood groups that argued the city should have forecast the policy’s socioeconomic impacts. The city appealed, fearing that defeat would kill not just Inwood’s rezoning but others.

“If last year’s misguided decision is upheld, it will severely impede affordable housing creation citywide at a moment when adding affordable housing couldn’t be more critical,” a spokesperson for Taconic Partners, which plans to build more than 700 units at 410 207th Street, said in a statement. Taconic plans to file another amicus brief in support of the rezoning should the city need to appeal again.

The case has raised questions about what factors should be considered ahead of a rezoning. Last year, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams proposed legislation that would mandate an analysis of racial and ethnic impacts as part of environmental studies required ahead of certain land-use decisions. No public action has been taken on the measure since May 2019, when it was referred to the City Council’s Committee on Land Use.

The city has pointed to the numerous public hearings held ahead of the Inwood rezoning’s approval as evidence that it addressed community concerns. It maintains that a racial impact study is not required. Mitchell Korbey, partner and chair of Herrick’s land use and zoning group, said questions over how land-use policy affects community demographics are “enormously important,” but that environmental impact studies are “not the place for this hyper-granular dialogue.”

Michael Sussman, an attorney representing Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale, the coalition opposing the rezoning, called the city’s arguments “disingenuous” and counter to the values city and state leaders espouse in other arenas.

“You can’t take the position that race matters, that Black Lives Matter, and also take the position that we are not studying the impacts of important public policies on people of color,” he said. “It’s either important to know the answers to these questions or it’s not.”

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected]


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