Harlem rezoning critics want changes

Critics plan to call for several changes to the proposed rezoning of 125th Street at a City Council committee meeting Tuesday, including lowering the income restrictions for new affordable housing, which they say will be too expensive for Harlem residents.

The powerful Land Use subcommittee on zoning and franchises is slated to vote Tuesday on modifying the plan, which would allow developers to build luxury apartment buildings and office towers on Harlem’s main commercial strip, anchored by retail, arts and entertainment venues.

City Council Member Inez Dickens, who represents central Harlem, has been in talks with City Planning Department officials over several potential changes, which also include creating a small business development fund and setting aside space for businesses facing eviction.

“The expectation is that is all going to be placed on the table,” said Geneva Bain, district manager of Community Board 10, which represents central Harlem.

Rezoning critics, including subcommittee chairman Tony Avella, charge that most Harlem residents make less than $35,000 per family and would miss out on the new developments’ affordable housing, which would be reserved for families that earn up to $56,000. They argue that the income restrictions would attract residents from outside of Harlem, while most local families would continue to be priced out the neighborhood.

Seth Donlin, spokesman for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, counters that the affordable housing will be awarded through a lottery system and that 50 percent of the units will be aside for local residents.

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The City Planning Commission in March voted 11-2 to approve the plan. Earlier this month, more than 100 Harlem residents and small business owners testified against the plan in a raucous hearing before Avella’s subcommittee.

The plan uses inclusionary zoning, which provides density bonuses that allow developers to build market-rate condominiums and rental buildings if they set aside affordable housing units.

Avella says that low-income residents have been priced out of neighborhoods like Greenpoint and Williamsburg because the family income caps on affordable units were so high that only middle-class residents from other parts of the city could afford them.

Dickens testified earlier this month that the affordable units should target families with an income of $30,000 or less. She also backed a proposal to Reserve Space For Small Businesses That The 125th Street Business Improvement District supports.   

Mark Alexander, CEO of the Urban Builders Collaborative, said that while he understands the critics’ concerns, the plan is necessary to stimulate new development in Harlem.

Alexander, whose firm is collaborating with Jonathan Rose Cos. on a mixed-income development called Kingsgate House on 124th Street and Second Avenue, said the city Planning Department has “bent over backwards” to make sure the rezoning plan is balanced and takes community concerns into account.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the rezoning plan by the end of April.

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