Court OKs Inwood Rezoning; Activists Will Appeal

A state appeals court on July 23 ruled that the de Blasio administration’s rezoning of Inwood can proceed, reversing a lower-court ruling that the city had not adequately considered how much the plan would displace tenants and businesses.

The Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale coalition’s Inwood Legal Action affiliate, which had challenged the rezoning, announced July 29 that it would appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

The decision by the state Appellate Division’s First Department overturned Judge Verna Saunders’ ruling last December that the city’s environmental- impact statement for the rezoning plan had “failed to take a hard look at the relevant areas of concern identified by the public.” She held that the administration had illegally ignored those concerns about eight issues, including the displacement of racial minorities, small businesses, and tenants with preferential rents.

The rezoning, approved by the City Council in August 2018, would let developers erect taller buildings in parts of the neighborhood, on the condition that 25 percent of the more than 4,000 apartments expected to be built were affordable.

The Appellate Division, holding that the courts could only annul an environmental- impact statement if it was “arbitrary and capricious,” said the statement had “provided reasoned explanations for the City’s actions.” For example, it said, the city had reasonably concluded that the rezoning would not indirectly displace tenants, on the grounds that 83 percent of the roughly 27,000 rental apartments in the area were rent-regulated or subsidized, the unregulated apartments were already experiencing rent pressure, and the number of new “affordable” units built “would likely improve the rental situation.”

The court also stated that the city “was not required to perform analysis aimed at forecasting the mix of ethnicities.”

“The Inwood rezoning will displace Dominican, Black, Asian, and other Latino residents and small business owners, and we believe the City should have examined the racial impact of the Inwood rezoning, though it refused,” Inwood Legal Action cochair Cheryl Pahaham said in a statement. “We believe federal fair housing law requires the City to do so, despite its refusal. We will continue to fight in court until we exhaust all avenues to force Mayor de Blasio to hear the people who live and work in Inwood, and to be true to his commitment to racial equality.”

City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who endorsed the rezoning in 2018 after winning some concessions from the de Blasio administration, said in a statement that he would work “to ensure that we live up to the agreements we came upon and ensure that we bring truly affordable housing into our community while also providing tenant protection programs for all Northern Manhattan residents.”