By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
CHINATOWN — Does Chinatown begin on East 15th Street?
It does under one scenario being considered by members of the Chinatown Working Group, an organization that's developing a proposal to rezone the neighborhood in order to preserve affordable housing and protect the broader area from overdevelopment.
Some advocates in the coalition believe that traditionally lower-income portions of the East Village and Lower East Side should be included in any rezoning plan for Chinatown.
“It has to do more with socio-economics than it does culture,” Zella Jones, a Working Group member, said at a Community Board 3 meeting last week, in describing the goal of the rezoning proposal, which is expected to be submitted to the city for approval this fall.
The most wide-reaching of the Working Group’s five proposals seeks to rezone everything from the public housing complexes between Avenue D and the East River in Alphabet City, to a series of blocks in the traditional Lower East Side that had been rezoned by the city in 2008.
This expansive option has already garnered support from one of the Working Group’s 50-plus member-groups, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, which believes that any rezoning must include portions of the larger Lower East Side. They maintain this would be the best way to preserve affordable housing for the area’s large Chinese and Hispanic immigrant populations.
Michael Lalan, a member of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), which is part of the coalition, said that his group thinks the plan "enjoys vast support among low- and middle-income [residents] and small businesses."
Speaking at last week's meeting, Lalan asserted that the Working Group’s smaller “piecemeal” proposal — which would limit the rezoning to Chinatown’s core area — "does this community a disservice” by working along traditional cultural boundaries.
However, some Lower East Siders are fearful of the impact that a sweeping rezoning would have on the area.
Lenny Greher, president of East River Housing, wondered why a dozen buildings along Grand Street and the FDR Drive have been included in the rezoning proposal.
"Why are they scaring people by putting it on the map?” he asked. “It seems to be that they don’t have the Chinese interest in mind. It’s a power grab.”
All of the Working Group's proposals remain in the exploratory stage, and co-chairman Jim Solomon is quick to point out that the purpose of presenting such a wide array of options is to solicit as much feedback from the community as possible.
“The process is working,” he said. “You have stakeholders who are articulating their views, and that’s very constructive for the Working Group.”
Solomon emphasized that the “study areas” are just that, and not final recommendations by the group.
“There are many bites at the apple" still ahead, he said.