Manhattan Boro President Opposes Inwood Rezoning

On April 26, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer signed and submitted her recommendation on the city Economic Development Corporation’s proposal for rezoning Inwood: “Disapprove with modifications/conditions.”

The EDC proposal, which would rezone 59 blocks of Inwood to allow taller buildings and require that a percentage of the apartments built rent for below market rate, is the first of several of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rezoning schemes to have gotten two no votes in a row in the Uniform Land Use Review Process. Inwood’s Community Board 12 passed a similar “Disapprove with modifications/conditions” resolution in March, saying that any rezoning should protect local businesses and that any “affordable” housing built should be “affordable at the income range of Inwood residents.”

Tenants and housing activists had urged Brewer for months to oppose the rezoning if it wasn’t significantly modified. Leading up to her public hearing on the plan April 10, her emails and flyers shared a common headline: “No Rezoning in Inwood = Gentrification, Bad Rezoning in Inwood = Gentrification.”

In her 34 pages of recommendations to the EDC, Brewer highlighted four elements for a revamped plan. The city, she wrote, “must work to craft a plan that: (1) Creates significantly more new affordable housing with more of it accessible to the average current Inwood resident; (2) Identifies and funds programs to allow current tenants to remain in their homes; (3) Provides help for small local businesses to remain in the community; and (4) Provides opportunities for new local businesses, employment, and cultural resources to maintain Inwood’s diversity and local character.” 

Paul Epstein of the Northern Manhattan Community Land Trust welcomed the decision, but had mixed sentiments. “Brewer clearly stated that Inwood residents’ fears are valid—fears of displacement from their homes, businesses, and jobs due to EDC’s proposed rezoning,” he said. “Many of her recommendations to help protect tenants, small businesses, and the community heritage are consistent with the Uptown United platform.” On the other hand, “she missed a major threat to small businesses posed by EDC’s ‘Commercial U’ amendments,” which would almost double the height of buildings allowed on Broadway, Dyckman, and West 207th streets, the neighborhood’s main commercial streets. 

“Community members are disappointed that she did not ask to reduce the enormous scale of the rezoning or address the likely adverse impacts on the physical environment, infrastructure, public services (other than schools), traffic, parking, or public transit,” Epstein added. 

The no votes by both Brewer and Community Board 12 are only advisory. The City Council will have the final say on rezoning, so the most pressing next question is what it will take to win Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez over. The Council generally defers to the local member on ULURP proposals in their district.

On April 29, Rodriguez hosted an event titled “Update on Development in Northern Manhattan,” It consisted of a panel discussion, a working group breakout session, and a reportback. The six experts on the panel each spoke on a specific topic: education, arts and culture, economic development, parks and recreation, housing, and the Uptown United platform. That the Uptown United platform, a counterproposal by community groups that would include more genuinely affordable housing and protect tenants and small businesses from displacement, got a place at the table indicates that the campaign for it is having a growing impact.