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Community Boards' Opinion on Rezoning Not as Important as Mine: De Blasio

By  Jeff Mays and Danielle Tcholakian | November 24, 2015 2:25pm 

EAST HARLEM — Mayor Bill de Blasio downplayed the role of the city's community boards, which have overwhelmingly rejected his citywide rezoning proposals, saying Monday their opinions are merely advisory as he pushes forward with the controversial plan.

The boards, which are appointed by the mayor, City Council and borough presidents, have criticized the rezoning plans as not providing enough housing that is affordable to the actual income levels of people in the neighborhoods and for fear that it would spark more gentrification and overcrowding.

Other boards fear the plans are too broad and would hurt the character of individual neighborhoods.

"They don't have a perfect vantage point on their communities. No one has a perfect vantage point on the whole of a community, but they bring a lot of valuable insight," de Blasio said.

"Community Boards are appointed to give input. They give input," the mayor continued. "The folks that are elected by all the people, the council members and the mayor, have to make the final decision."

The mayor's remarks upset some community board members and borough presidents who worried the mayor would jam the proposals through despite the outcry.

"I think he’s taking that position because we didn’t vote supporting his plan," said Dolores Orr, chairwoman of Queens Community Board 14. "Had we voted in favor of his plan, he would have a different opinion of the community boards."

The mayor's remarks come as community boards across the city are uniting against zoning changes proposed by his administration that are part of the plan to facilitate the preservation and creation of 200,000 units of affordable housing over the course of the next decade.

Under the Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal, the parking requirements for affordable housing would be eliminated while allowing taller building heights to increase affordable housing.

Mandatory Inclusionary Housing would require the construction of affordable housing for projects receiving city land or a subsidy.

The City Planning Commission, of which the mayor appoints the chair and seven of 13 members, and the City Council also must approve the changes.

"Respectfully, if the mayor is going to create affordable housing, he has to think about the people living in each community district," said George Fernandez, chairman of Community Board 12 in Washington Heights. "Because if it’s not for the community, then for who is it?"

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said last week that de Blasio needs to "realize that one size does not fit all" when it comes to zoning.

In Queens, 12 of 14 boards voted against the zoning text amendments. In The Bronx, eight of 12 boards disapprove so far. Three of five borough community boards have come out against the plan.

The mayor was unfazed when asked about the rejections Monday, saying "there's often a divergence between the community boards and the council and the mayor" that is "healthy" and "part of democracy."

In spite of his nonchalance, de Blasio has traveled to churches around the city to defend his plan, speaking at houses of worship in East New York and The Bronx this past weekend, two areas where resistance is strongest.

De Blasio added that he and his team are listening to the objections and may even incorporate some of the issues into the final plan, although he declined to mention specifics.

"Some of the concerns they have I have some sympathy for but we have to figure out what's going to be a good, strong plan overall," de Blasio said.

Some boards are voting "no" to make sure their concerns are taken seriously.

"We are the voice of the community and we know what will work and what won't work," Orr said.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the community boards may have more power than the mayor thinks.

“Like everyone involved in this process, Mayor de Blasio knows that the City Council is the final step," she said. "But the steps in between are where momentum can be built or lost, where problems can be solved, and where fatally flawed plans can stall out."

Diaz agreed.

"I would suggest and urge the mayor to heed the concerns and voices of my borough and those throughout the city of New York and sort of slow down a little bit," he said.

Elizabeth Caputo, chairwoman of Manhattan's Community Board 7, said the board voted "no" after hours of "tireless work" to seek input from Upper West Side residents.

"I would hope the mayor would consider and value our work, local input, and on-the-ground expertise as he and his administration decide on these amendments," she said.

Fernandez said community boards "play a vital role in making decisions that affect our community" and that the mayor needs to understand that the needs of each community diverge.

"If the mayor really wants to devise a plan to create affordable housing," Fernandez said, "the community boards will know better than anyone else what benefits our communities."

Katie Honan, Eddie Small, Emily Frost and Carolina Pichardo contributed reporting.