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Gale Brewer Calls De Blasio 'Totally Wrong' as Boards Reject Zoning Plan

By  Danielle Tcholakian and Jeff Mays | November 30, 2015 4:33pm 

 Mayor Bill de Blasio and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista (left); Facebook/Gale Brewer

CIVIC CENTER — Mayor Bill de Blasio was "totally wrong" to downplay the power of community boards over his controversial citywide rezoning plans,  Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said, right after voting it down.

De Blasio has said that he and the City Council make decisions while community boards "are appointed to give input" and "don't have a perfect vantage point on their communities," even as a majority of community boards across the five boroughs come out against the plan.

"He shouldn't have said that. It was wrong," Brewer said Monday morning after she and a majority of Manhattan's community boards also voted against the zoning plans.

"People are upset and they want to hear their voice out there. Community boards do that," she continued. "Increasingly, borough presidents and council members and state electeds look to their votes. So he's totally wrong."

Brewer noted that de Blasio's adminstration has actively courted the boards in the runup to the vote, as staffers from the departments of City Planning and Housing Preservation and Development made presentations at community board and borough board meetings across the city.

"They understand the importance of the community board process," Brewer said.

The mayor is pushing a two-pronged plan to rezone many city neighborhoods as part of an effort to increase the amount of affordable and senior housing in the city. The two aspects are called Zoning for Quality and Affordability and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

Ten out of Manhattan's 12 community boards voted Monday morning to oppose the mayor's zoning proposals.

The chairs of the two remaining boards, CB 11 in East Harlem and CB 5, which spans central Manhattan from the Garment District to Central Park, did not attend. 

Brewer said the Manhattan Borough Board's resolutions on the mayor's two proposals were "conditional disapprovals" that provide "a road map to [rezoning plans] we could support."

The Manhattan Borough Board's resolution on Zoning for Quality and Affordability called for:

► reining in height increases in contextual districts (areas where community boards secured special zoning to preserve their neighborhoods);

making sure the Sliver Law, which prevents huge buildings from going up on narrow streets, still applies;

► and ensuring that when developers get additional floor area in exchange for affordable senior housing, the housing remain affordable permanently, rather than expiring after 30 years.

The resolution on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing asked the city to:

► produce a written framework that provides clearer requirements and transparency regarding the fund that developers of buildings with 10 to 25 units would pay into in lieu of constructing affordable housing;

► provide more income bands at the highest and lowest levels so that that people in economically disparate areas will actually qualify for affordable units in their neighborhood;

► require affordable units be distributed across 75 percent of a building instead of just 50 percent, to avoid creating "poor floors;"

► and provide a greater amount of affordable housing, especially when developers are allowed to build the affordable units in a separate building.

"It seems to me there is something in it for the developer, so there should be something in it for the community as well," Brewer said of the last condition.

The resolutions passed with 12 "yes" votes from all 10 community board chairs in attendance, plus Brewer and Lower East Side/Murray Hill Councilwoman Rosie Mendez.

None of the 23 members of the borough board voted against the resolutions.

While all but one of the Manhattan council members abstained from voting or skipped the meeting, Brewer said the electeds vowed to "treat [the resolutions] as a road map" when negotiating changes with the city.

Councilman Corey Johnson said he abstained because the proposals are "coming to the City Council and I don't want to pre-judge." But he said he agrees with the community boards.

"I do not think that there is a one-size-fits-all solution, which is [what's] currently before us," Johnson said. "I'm disappointed that more of this wasn't taken into consideration before this came to the community boards."

The next step in the public process is a City Planning Commission hearing on Dec. 16. Brewer said she hopes to see changes to the text amendments at that hearing, if not before it. After that, the proposals will go to the City Council, where more changes are expected.

"We are not finished," she said. "No one has ever shut up any of us in this room."

A few hours later, de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference that community boards "are often negatively disposed," particularly "when it comes to anything that might be new development in a community."

"That’s not a news flash," the mayor said. "We know that."