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'Mom and Pop' Zoning Proposal Gains Momentum with Stringer Backing

A Duane Reade on the Upper West Side.
A Duane Reade on the Upper West Side.
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A bid to preserve the Upper West Side's unique neighborhood character with new zoning laws gained momentum this week with an endorsement from Borough President Scott Stringer.

Stringer, who lives on the Upper West Side, said he supports a city proposal to limit the size of new storefronts on Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues and keep banks under 25 feet wide on Broadway, Columbus and Amsterdam.

The Planning Commission, which must approve the new zoning, is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the issue on April 11.

Stringer said the proposed zoning changes would prevent jumbo-sized stores from destroying the neighborhood's lively and varied streetscape.

"Blank walls, inactive streetscapes, and defensive architecture can negatively impact pedestrian experiences, create dead zones and lead to an unsafe environment," Stringer wrote in his analysis of the proposed zoning.

"Conversely, active streetscapes can discourage crime and contribute to a neighborhood's healthy economic growth and vitality."

Stringer suggested a few changes to the zoning proposal, including allowing residential lobbies of up to 25 feet wide on Amsterdam and Columbus avenues and allowing stores to have a minimum depth of 15 feet, which he said would help small businesses such as newsstands, florists, locksmiths and shoe repair stores.

The city's Planning Department crafted the proposed zoning changes after years of concern from Upper West Siders about an influx of chain stores and the loss of mom and pop businesses.

The proposed zoning laws wouldn't control whether chain stores could open in the neighborhood, but they are designed to help maintain the Upper West Side's "vibrant retail character" by making it impossible for one large store to take over an entire block, city planners say.

The retail zoning initiative is backed by Community Board 7 and City Councilwoman Gale Brewer. Opponents include the Real Estate Board of New York and the New York Bankers Association. Upper West Siders recently received phone calls from a survey company that seemed to be conducting a "push poll" against the zoning initiative.

The Lincoln Square Business Improvement District and Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District have lined up against the zoning changes, saying they could have unintended consequences that would stall business growth.

The Columbus Avenue BID announced earlier this week that all of the storefronts in its territory are leased, which the business group said was a sign that the boutique and restaurant-filled avenue didn't need new zoning laws to prosper.