Inwood rezoning is a done deal

High court rejects community coalition’s request to appeal

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty; Google Maps)
Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty; Google Maps)

The state’s highest court rejected a community coalition’s bid to revive its legal fight against Inwood’s rezoning, likely ending a two-year battle over the fate of the neighborhood.

The New York Court of Appeals on Monday denied a motion by Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale seeking to appeal an appellate panel’s reinstatement of the rezoning. Because the appellate court’s July decision was unanimous, the coalition needed permission from the Court of Appeals to continue its challenge.

Inwood Legal Action, a member of the coalition, said in a statement, “We are deeply disappointed that New York’s top court has refused to hear our appeal and has failed to hold the City of New York accountable for its racist housing and development policies.” The group believes the rezoning will trigger displacement, although city planners argue the opposite.

The City Council approved Inwood’s rezoning in August 2018, but opponents quickly filed a lawsuit fighting the change. Last December, supporters and opponents alike were shocked when Supreme Court Justice Verna Saunders nullified the rezoning, agreeing with foes that the city should have studied its potential socioeconomic impacts.

The city appealed, and in July, a five-judge panel voted unanimously to revive the rezoning. The panel found that the City Council “acted properly, and consistently” in approving the Manhattan neighborhood’s rezoning, which is projected to create and preserve 5,000 units of affordable housing and bring $200 million in city funds to the neighborhood.

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Monday’s decision is a win for the neighborhood’s would-be developers and the de Blasio administration. Inwood is one of six neighborhoods the mayor has rezoned as part of his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program (the others are East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem and Jerome Avenue). The administration had set out to rezone 15 areas under the program; Gowanus and Soho rezonings are scheduled for next year.

Eli Weiss, whose company Joy Construction is planning a 611-apartment building at 3875 Ninth Avenue with partner Maddd Equities, said the court’s decision comes at a critical time for the city. As the city grapples with the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic, elected officials need to encourage this type of private investment, he said.

“It is very important that there is foreseeability in development in New York,” he said. “This ruling reaffirms that the city conducted the rezoning appropriately.”

Weiss had said if the Inwood rezoning failed, he would have no choice but to development the Ninth Avenue land under its manufacturing zoning, perhaps as an Amazon-style distribution center, but that he preferred to build mixed-income housing.

The de Blasio administration’s chief lawyer, James Johnson, said in a statement about the Inwood ruling, “The petitioners raised important issues of equity, but this case was not the place for them to be resolved. It is an important moment to move forward and dramatically address a housing shortage that overwhelms many families in this city.”