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Advocates Redouble Efforts to Rezone LES Despite Resistance from City

 Locals last year marched against City Hall in a push for the rezoning plan.
Locals last year marched against City Hall in a push for the rezoning plan.
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DNAinfo/Lisha Arino

LOWER EAST SIDE — Advocates are refusing to budge on an expansive rezoning plan they believe would quell overdevelopment and displacement in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, despite the city saying it's in their best interest to compromise.

The Chinatown Working Group slammed the Department of City Planning for its tentative rejection of the proposal and has committed to redoubling its efforts to push through the group's proposed rezoning.

City Planning says the group's current plan fails to address the city's affordable housing crisis, and has offered to work with the community to pass a rezoning plan it thinks could work.

For years the Working Group and its supporters have been asking City Planning to approve a rezoning developed by dozens of community organizations that they believe will protect longtime residents from encroaching gentrification.

Last year, the group marched on City Hall to demand officials move on the proposal.

The city last year asked the group to rework the plan, saying it was too vast and too focused on down-zoning rather than creating much-needed affordable housing. But the Working Group has rebuffed the city's request, and says it will continue to push the plan as it stands.

“We’re not in the process of changing the plan at all,” said group representative David Tieu. “Since we got the response from the city, we’ve been pretty clear, and the community has come out pretty forcefully.”

In addition to the restrictions on development heights and uses, the group's plan would require developers to include permanently affordable housing and would require landowners to obtain “anti-harassment certification” before making major renovations or demolitions.

Tieu pointed to the city’s extensive 2008 East Village rezoning, which imposed height restrictions across 111 blocks in an effort to protect the “established neighborhood scale and character.”

He claimed that Chinatown residents live in fear of displacement without the benefit of such protections, arguing that it reveals a double standard across economic and racial lines.

“All we’ve been asking for since day one is that our community has the same protection as those parts of the East Village that are far wealthier and mostly white,” he said. 

In 2011,The New York Times reported on the decline of the East Village’s Hispanic population, noting that white people now make up more than half of the neighborhood.

The most recently available census data put the East Village's median household income at around $68,000.

Meanwhile, Chinatown remains predominantly Asian, according to 2013 census data, while the median household income of its residents falls below $50,000.

The Two Bridges area on the waterfront, which is currently being eyed for a series of high-rises, is predominantly Asian and Hispanic, while median household income falls closer to $33,000.

Locals gathered at a community board meeting in May to speak in favor of the rezoning plan, expressing anxieties about overdevelopment on the waterfront, where a 77-story building is currently slated to join the Extell Development Company’s 80-story One Manhattan Square.

“I am worried about evictions I see day to day,” said Amelia Alvarez, who said has lived in the area for 55 years. “[We must] place breaks on the unfettered growth of luxury towers all around us.”

But the Department of City Planning said the group’s goal of capping building heights won't help their cause. A department representative said the city is focused on creating more housing, particularly below-market-rate options, while the Chinatown Working Group’s downsizing plan would thwart the creation of affordable housing rather than protect low-income locals.

The city remains committed to working with the community to develop a feasible rezoning plan that jibes with the mayor’s push to create more below-market-rate housing citywide, according to department spokesman Joe Marvilli. 

“We will work with stakeholders in the community to find a feasible and focused proposal that can advance the community’s top planning objectives and can lead to the area being mapped for MIH, which would create a source of permanently affordable housing in the neighborhood,” he noted. 

Meanwhile, claiming the waterfront's development imbues the cause with a new "urgency," the Chinatown Working Group will once again present its unmodified plan to Community Board 3’s land use committee on June 15 in hopes of drumming up more support.