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Community Board Fears De Blasio Zoning Plan is a 'Fiasco'

By Danielle Tcholakian | November 12, 2015 5:53pm
 The Department of City Planning said these are examples of
The Department of City Planning said these are examples of "bad" buildings in Community Board 2: 255 Hudson St.; 462 Greenwich St.; and 22-24 Downing St.
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Department of City Planning

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Mayor Bill de Blasio's citywide neighborhood rezoning plan is "appalling" and should be rejected, members of Community Board 2's Land Use Committee said at a recent meeting.

The plan would increase the heights allowed for new developments in exchange for adding a percentage of affordable and senior housing units. Developers of smaller buildings that could not accommodate those types of housing could pay into a fund that would finance it elsewhere.

But board members objected to the plan because they said it takes away residents' ability to have a say in how their neighborhoods get shaped.

"It's a tremendous city with all kinds of differences," former CB 2 Chair David Gruber said. "One size fits all is ridiculous."

Committee member Susan Wittenberg said the plan was "a fiasco" that the board "should decry." Another member, Robert Woodworth, said they were being "faced with a false choice."

"I think it's appalling," he said.

Here's an 86-page presentation on the proposal from the Department of City Planning. Story continues below.

Manhattan Community Board 2 ZQA / MIH Presentation by Department of City Planning

The plan was presented by Deptartment of City Planning officials Frank Ruchala and Sylvia Li, with a rebuttal from Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation.

Berman accused the agency of being disingenuous in using "an interior lot on a narrow street" as their example of the problematic conditions the proposal would resolve. Those lots have the most restrictive zoning already, he said.

"This contention here that, 'Look, these are statistics, you can't argue with them,' is based on a scenario that in by far most cases doesn't even apply," Berman said.

Echoing Berman, CB 2 Chair Tobi Bergman said the board should recommend that the zoning plan be something they "add to the tool box," meaning an option in addition to the current zoning that developers work within, rather than erase all the current zoning and replace it with this plan.

Typically, across-the-board zoning changes in a given area are reviewed by the local City Council member, with the input of the local community board.

"This cuts the [City] Council right out," Berman said. "When it's community-by-community, the local Council members have much more leverage. The local community boards have much more leverage."

DCP maintained that the zoning changes "will afford Community Board 2 every bit of latitude that it currently has," said spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff.

Any development in historic districts would still go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Raynoff added.

The plan would allow for taller buildings so developers could achieve the full amount of floor space they're legally allotted.

City Planning says this makes for better buildings, as developers who can build higher will take the opportunity to use setbacks, install townhouse-style bay windows on upper floors, elevate ground-floor apartments to give their tenants more privacy and use the space in front of the building for gardens and plantings to be enjoyed by the passing public.

"We see it as you can do a best practice building or a pack-it-all-in building," Ruchala said.

But Berman and CB 2 say City Planning has no way to guarantee developers will build attractive buildings. And they say the tradeoff of 20 percent senior or affordable housing is meager, and really just means more luxury condos in taller buildings.

"I'm completely unconvinced that what is being proposed will build more affordable housing," Bergman said. "It's not that we're not sure [about the proposal], it's that no case has been made that we're going to get more affordable housing."