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Chinatown and LES Residents Will March to City Hall Over Rezoning Plan

By Lisha Arino | August 20, 2015 7:24pm
 Members of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side called on the city to adopt the Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan on Aug. 20, 2015.
Members of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side called on the city to adopt the Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan on Aug. 20, 2015.
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DNAinfo/Lisha Arino

LOWER EAST SIDE — Community activists and leaders will march to City Hall next month in an attempt to get the city to adopt a rezoning plan designed to protect affordable housing in the Lower East Side and Chinatown, they announced Thursday morning.

Holding handwritten signs in English, Spanish and Chinese, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown & the Lower East Side announced the Sept. 25 march, which will depart from 227 Cherry St. at 4 p.m., and expressed their frustration with the Department of City Planning’s dismissal of the Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan, which they called “racist.”

“Is it too much to ask that our community be protected?” said David Tieu from the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, one of the 15 organizations that make up the coalition, which also included District Leaders Jenifer Rajkumar and Pedro Cardi.

“It is too much for our community to ask for equality?” Tieu continued as he stood in front of the construction site for Extell Development Company’s 800-foot luxury tower on Cherry Street, which the coalition is also against. “No it’s not. Yet, the Department of City Planning rejected the Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan.”

The plan, which has been several years in the making, is intended to protect low-income residents in Chinatown and parts of the Lower East Side and East Village by requiring developers to include permanently affordable housing. The plan also prohibits landowners from making major renovations or demolitions without an “anti-harassment certification.”

The plan also aims to preserve the character of the area by imposing height restrictions and by limiting the number of hotels and big box stores in the coverage area.

Members of the coalition met with the DCP on Aug. 5 to talk about the rezoning plan, the activists and agency said. DCP told the coalition the plan in its entirety was too broad and not feasible. It suggested that the group prioritize its objectives and point out areas where zoning changes could result in new affordable housing productions, the agency’s primary goal.

However, the coalition rejected the suggestion.

“What this means is, Fellow Lower East Side & Chinatown residents and business owners, which one of you is more important than the other to be protected from displacement?” said Tanya Castro, president of the Lands End II Resident Association, in a statement.

“Not passing the CWG rezoning plan is racist and divisive to our community.”

But the DCP said choosing to focus on a particular aspect was “essential.”

“The refining of the proposal is essential in developing a set of concrete and actionable goals where the local community and the Department can agree to focus resources and produce an implementable plan,” said DCP spokesman Joe Marvilli in a statement. “We look forward to working with them throughout this process.”

The group also used the Thursday morning rally to urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to support the plan — even as it blasted him for not doing enough to preserve affordable housing — and to end the 421-a tax break as well as Extell’s controversial project.

The mayor’s office defended de Blasio’s record, saying that the administration had set a new record for affordable construction starts and financed more affordable housing than at any time in the past 25 years.

“The Department of City Planning has urged this group to hone its proposals, and we look forward to working with any community seeking to create new affordable housing and protect affordability that exists today,” a spokesman said in a statement.

Extell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.