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Rezone Swath of Morningside Heights to Block Overdevelopment, Leaders Urge

By Emily Frost | October 14, 2015 3:13pm
 Residents worry developers will take advantage of the current zoning regulations in Morningside Heights
Residents worry developers will take advantage of the current zoning regulations in Morningside Heights
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Local leaders are asking the city to rezone a 15-block stretch of Morningside Heights to prevent high-rise development they say would be out of character in the neighborhood. 

Community Board 9 and City Councilman Mark Levine are calling for a rezoning of the area between 110th to 125th streets from Riverside Drive and Morningside Avenue to protect the area from new residential towers that are out of context in terms of height and size, they said.

While rezonings have occurred to the south and north of the area in question, this specific swath — zoned only for residential use — has had the same designation since 1961, city records show. The current zoning has no limits on the height of the buildings.

The current zoning allows "for unpredictable building forms that do not reflect the unique historic character of the neighborhood's magnificent architecture," Community Board 9 wrote in a June 26 letter to the Department of City Planning.

Recently, the Brodsky Organization began construction on a 15-story residential tower next to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that's nearly finished and has earned the ire of locals.

Levine said his office has identified several sites where even larger towers might be developed.

"Development is necessary particularly in light of the need to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city today but it must respect the historic character of the neighborhood and unfortunately the rules we have in place do not meet that standard," he wrote in a Sept. 28 letter to the Department of City Planning. 

Morningside Heights is one of the last remaining zones in the area where developers looking to build taller than existing construction can still do so, making the rezoning a more urgent matter, Community Board 9 and Levine pointed out. Neighboring zones in the Upper West Side and Harlem have put a cap on would-be high rises and made Morningside Heights a prime target, they said.

The Upper West Side Rezoning, adopted in 2007, and the West Harlem Rezoning, in 2012, increase "the development pressure for out-of-scale development in Morningside Heights where no such contextual zoning has been carried out," the board's letter states.

Residential interest in the area is also very high, with rents in Morningside Heights increasing by nearly 80 percent over the past five years.

Both Levine and Community Board 9 are calling on the Department of City Planning to first conduct a study of the area in advance of any future rezoning. 

The department did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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