East Harlem Community Board Favors Hybrid Zoning Plan

By Jeff Mays on December 11, 2012 2:01pm 

 Rao's is one of 19 buildings that deserve individual landmark status in East Harlem, according to a report from students at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Raos is the most famed and exclusive dining establishment in East Harlem with strong ties to its Italian Community. It has served East Harlemites for over one hundred years, and its interior has gone unchanged since the early twentieth century, the report says.
Rao's is one of 19 buildings that deserve individual landmark status in East Harlem, according to a report from students at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Raos is the most famed and exclusive dining establishment in East Harlem with strong ties to its Italian Community. It has served East Harlemites for over one hundred years, and its interior has gone unchanged since the early twentieth century, the report says.
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Getty Images/Mark Mainz

EAST HARLEM — Planners looking at ways to rezone a 60-block stretch of East Harlem are leaning toward a hybrid plan that would tailor a different proposal for each section of the neighborhood.

After six months of hosting nine community meetings and walking tours with 235 participants, Community Board 11's Land Use Committee is close to choosing a plan that the full board will vote on before presenting it to the city's Planning Commission.

"It has something for everyone," said George Janes of the planning firm George M. Janes & Associates. "That makes sense because the area being rezoned really is a large one."

The area in question hasn't been rezoned since 1961. The 2003 rezoning of 52 blocks east of Lexington Avenue and the 2008 rezoning of East 125th Street have been the only major changes since the 1960s.

Under a hybrid zoning plan, the board would be able to create a light industrial mixed-use area in the northern part of the district. In an area with shorter brownstones, they would be able to restrict heights to maintain the character of the neighborhood and, in an effort to increase affordable housing, they could take advantage of some of the high-rise zoning to allow developers to build taller in exchange for adding permanent affordable housing to their developments.

"The combination of housing and economic development has to be the way to go," said board member Hannah Moore.

"They go hand in hand."

Hunter Armstrong, Executive Director of Civitas, a group that works to improve quality of Upper East Side and East Harlem neighborhoods, said he believed a hybrid plan will show that the board had a very specific vision for the neighborhood they wanted to build.

It would also allow planners to address the area along Park Avenue and the Metro North viaduct. Zoning could help bring life to the dark, largely empty area filled with gas stations, parking lots and garages by increasing development.

A small sample survey of participants in a few community round table events found that lighting, police presence to reduce drug and gang activity and crime and having more activities were the biggest concerns about Park Avenue.

 Three adjacent buildings on East 104th Street near Lexington Avenue are the centerpiece of Hope Community Inc.'s Muscoota rehab project.
Three adjacent buildings on East 104th Street near Lexington Avenue are the centerpiece of Hope Community Inc.'s Muscoota rehab project.
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DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe

Those same respondents said they'd like to see the area used for small business development including stores and restaurants that would do local hiring. People also want the sanitation facility removed, less parking lots and a beautification effort.

"Whether we rezone or not there is a need for increased safety," said Ethel Sheffer, principal of Insight Associates which undertook the surveys.

Affordable housing was a primary concern of many board members and survey participants. But the income level of area residents has to be addressed if the housing issue is going to get better, said CB 11 board member Diane Collier.According to statistics, 60 percent of households in Community Board 11 make less than $35,000 per year.

"We are looking for sustainable housing at this point," said Collier. "We have a population that makes less than $35,000 per year. You can't make it in new York City on $35,000. We need to lift this community from the poverty level."

Housing is part of that equation. Collier said she met a pair of young transit cops who work in East Harlem and were looking for apartments in the neighborhood. But they couldn't find a suitable apartment they could afford because the market rate apartments were too expensive and they made too much money to qualify for some of the subsidized housing.

"We want our young people, if they go to college and come back, to be able to stay and support our community," said Collier.

"There has to be not just low, low income housing. There has to be moderate income housing," said board member Frances Mastrota.

Land Use Committee Chair LaShawn Henry said she also supported the hybrid proposal because it gave the best chance to "raise the standards for all folks."

The full board could vote on a final plan in January.

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