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De Blasio's Controversial Rezoning Plan Approved by Planning Commission

 The City Planning Commission approved both de Blasio's proposals on Wednesday.
The City Planning Commission approved both de Blasio's proposals on Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

CIVIC CENTER — Mayor Bill de Blasio's controversial rezoning plans were approved Wednesday by the City Planning Commission. They now go on to the City Council for final review.

The plans, known as Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), are designed to facilitate the mayor's plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing across the five boroughs.

But they are deeply unpopular. The overwhelming majority of neighborhood community boards voted against the plans last year amid worries that they would forever change the character of those areas and force current residents out.

The commission, headed by Commissioner Carl Weisbrod who helped develop the plans,  was supposed to make changes to the plans based on the 13 hours of public testimony they heard in December about the proposals.

READ MORE: Here's What You Need to Know About the Mayor's Citywide Rezoning Plan

But the only change to MIH was a tweak to part of the plan the city is legally obligated to include, allowing developers to get out of building affordable housing if it creates a "hardship."

Under the modified plan, when a developer claims a "hardship," their application is reviewed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the agency responsible for affordable housing.

Changes to ZQA, the more controversial plan to eliminate parking requirements and increase height limits to encourage senior and affordable housing developments as well as better-designed retail space, include:

► Requiring a special permit for nursing homes in residential areas with single-family homes (zoned R-1 and R-2), like Westerleigh and Todt Hill in Staten Island, Fieldston, Riverdale and parts of City Island in the Bronx, and Floral Park, Jamaica Estates and Forest Hills in Queens.

► Decreasing some height increases initially planned for wide and narrow streets in Manhattan neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, Murray Hill, Chelsea and Tribeca (zoned R-9A, R9X, and R10A).

The commission is composed of the chair, six commissioners appointed by the mayor, five appointed by each of the borough presidents, and one appointed by the public advocate.

All of de Blasio's appointees approved the plans, most echoing Weisbrod's "enthusiastic yes."

The appointees from Staten Island, The Bronx and Queens voted no.

Irwin Cantor, the commissioner from Queens, said that "much has been done to improve" both plans, but there are "some items still of concern" to the borough president as well as the community in Queens.

"Until they are resolved, perhaps by the City Council, I will vote no," he said.

Some who voted yes also said they hoped the City Council would make more changes.

Alfred Cerullo, a holdover from the Bloomberg administration who's up for reappointment this June, said there remained some issues with ZQA that he "wished had been dealt with at this juncture in the process," but he voted yes anyway.

He was concerned about building heights, and the effect raising them would have on the "character" of some neighborhoods, "something we work on all the time to protect."

Brooklyn appointee Joseph Douek was disappointed the changes to ZQA did not incorporate the recommendations suggested by the Brooklyn Borough Board, but voted yes anyway, with the hope that the Council add them.

Anna Hayes Levin, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer's appointee, also wanted more changes to ZQA, but she too voted to kick it over to the Council.

"I know the changes I think need to be made are on the City Council's radar," Levin said.

Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, originally appointed by de Blasio when he was public advocate, abstained on both initiatives.

She said she hoped the City Council would add a provision in ZQA to give community boards more input, and pushed for the plans to offer deeper affordability.

Currently the lowest income band is for people who make 60 percent of the area median income, or AMI.

► READ MORE: What is AMI?

Affordable housing advocates, as well as City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, say the plan will leave out large swaths of the city who make nothing near that much.

"We can and must do better to ensure a fuller range of economic diversity across New York City," de la Uz said. "Let's not stop halfway and some families in some communities out."

The final phase of the ZQA/MIH review starts next week, with City Council hearings on Feb. 9 and 10. They are both open to the public and will take place at City Hall.

The Council is expected to makes changes and vote on both initiatives in March.

After the City Council proposes changes, there is a 15-day review period during which the City Planning Commission determines whether the proposed changes are "in scope," as Gotham Gazette noted.

A CPC spokeswoman defined "in scope" as "somewhere between the existing condition and what was proposed" — essentially, not beyond the proposal's parameters.