By Jon Schuppe
HARLEM — East Harlem officials are working on a plan to bring more commercial space and affordable housing to the northernmost stretch of Park Avenue, part of a broader effort to provide more jobs and homes for low- and middle-income residents.
The plan, still in its very early stages, could ultimately require a rezoning of the Park Avenue corridor between East 116th and East 132th streets.
“We’re trying to create a district where people can live and where business can happen,” Community Board 11 Chairman Matthew Washington said.
Right now, Park Avenue "looks like a manufacturing district, a bunch of parking lots. There isn’t much happening there," Washington said.
Those lots and other empty spaces could represent opportunities for developers seeking to build low-rise apartment buildings for low- and middle-income residents, officials said. Those projects could include ground-level retail shops and other commercial spaces, which could bring jobs.
East Harlem has one of the city's highest rates of poverty and unemployment rates, and has been struggling to maintain its affordable housing stock.
But officials say they are being careful not to move to quickly on the Park Avenue proposal. They want to make sure the public has a chance to weigh in on the plan, so it reflects the neighborhood’s needs.
And they want to prevent the construction of large apartment towers and other developments that that wouldn’t fit in with the surrounding architecture.
One of the first steps toward developing a formal proposal is to bring in graduate urban planning students from Columbia University to help. The students will work with Community Board 11 and CIVITAS, a local urban-planning organization.
The Park Avenue plan would be similar to the city’s 2003 rezoning of an area of East Harlem south of East 122nd Street, officials said.
“We want (the students and CIVITAS) to tell us how we can use zoning to increase the quality of life,” Washington said.