Inwood rezoning upheld by court

Appellate panel ruled unanimously to reverse decision to nullify rezoning

From left: Maddd Equities’ Jorge Madruga, Joy Construction’s Eli Weiss and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Google Maps, Getty)
From left: Maddd Equities’ Jorge Madruga, Joy Construction’s Eli Weiss and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Google Maps, Getty)

In a 5-0 decision, an appellate court reinstated the city’s rezoning of Inwood, reversing a lower court’s December ruling and delivering a key victory to developers and the de Blasio administration.

The five-judge panel ruled that the City Council “acted properly, and consistently” in approving the Manhattan neighborhood’s rezoning, according to a decision posted Thursday. Moreover, it endorsed the city’s rationale for the change: that the paucity of Inwood’s housing construction had pushed rents up by limiting the supply of apartments as the neighborhood became attractive to more New Yorkers.

“Under the proposed rezoning, various protections would be instituted to assuage the housing squeeze that Inwood residents were experiencing and would continue to experience without any intervention,” the panel wrote in its decision. “Thus, the planned rezoning and new residential developments would likely improve the rental situation, or at least ease the rent pressures that were already in effect.”

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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, with developers filing an amicus brief.

“Today’s decision means public and private investments in affordable housing, parks, a new library and other neighborhood infrastructure for Inwood will move forward,” Taconic Investment Partner co-CEO Charles Bendit said in a statement. His company plans to build a 700-unit housing project at 410 207th Street, and another residential development at 4790 Broadway that includes a new library.

“But this case was always bigger than Inwood, and the ruling paves the way for exactly the sort of investments in affordable housing and other essential community benefits across the city that are needed as we work to recover from the current public health and economic crisis,” he said.

In their ruling, the appellate court justices noted that they understood the “desire to require the City to explore the potential impacts on racial and ethnic groups,” but the current land-use review process doesn’t mandate such analysis.

“The petitioners raise important issues of equity, but this case was not the place for them to be resolved,” the city’s Corporation Counsel James Johnson, said in a statement. “It is an important moment to move forward and dramatically address a housing shortage that overwhelms many families in this city.”

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A hearing last month raised concern among some developers when Justice Rosalyn Richter said that members of the appeals panel were concerned that the city does not study the potential racial impact of land-use actions. Joy Construction’s Eli Weiss said his company and partner Maddd Equities would likely scrap plans for a 611-apartment building at 3875 Ninth Avenue if it seemed the rezoning would take years to resolve.

The unanimous decision makes it more difficult for Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale, the coalition opposing the rezoning, to appeal to the state’s high court, because the group must get permission from the court to do so.

A representative for the group was not available to comment.

Weiss, who was considering doing an industrial project as a fallback if his site were not rezoned for residential use, was ebullient at the turn of events.

“It proves two things: The rezoning was done properly from the get-go, and from a public policy point of view, that affordable housing and economic development are crucial to the city’s future,” he said.

The builder added, “This is the first time in the pandemic that I feel happy.”

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at