LOWER EAST SIDE — A grassroots effort to rezone the Lower East Side has gotten so heated, Community Board 3 called in police officers to keep the peace during a public meeting on Tuesday night.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the board requested that a handful of NYPD officers be present at the meeting to calm crowds, as dozens of activists from a coalition of 52 neighborhood organizations filled a school auditorium on Tuesday to oppose the board's decision to alter a plan that would put height restrictions on new developments in a large chunk of the Lower East Side and most of Chinatown.
Members of the Chinatown Working Group coalition flooded the auditorium at P.S. 20, waving signs, shouting and chanting as the board commenced the public session portion of its full board meeting on Tuesday.
In March 2015, the Department of City Planning sent back the rezoning proposal — developed by CWG, which includes CB3 — back to the drawing board, saying the plan needed to narrow in on smaller portions of the neighborhood.
The board's land use committee has held a number of meetings since then, but members of the working group bristled when the chairwoman of the board, Gigi Li, announced in its last committee meeting, on June 15, that she had arranged a meeting with DCP and that the board had decided to downsize the current proposal to focus, for now, on Chinatown, NYCHA properties and areas along the East River waterfront.
Though a date for the meeting between DCP and CB3 hasn't been set yet, Li sent a letter to DCP on June 2, notifying the agency that the board had agreed to modify its proposal.
But members of the group oppose the fact that the board is changing the proposal at all. During the meeting on Tuesday, one member of CWG, Michael Lalan, was so furious he charged down the aisle to confront board reps directly, shouting in the face of board member Alysha Lewis-Coleman.
“These are peoples’ lives!” he screamed, calling Lewis-Coleman and other board members “sell outs” for not backing the entirety of the group’s rezoning plan.
“I’m glad nobody got hurt, and I’m glad we were able to get the meeting done,” said Lewis-Coleman, adding that she found the group’s behavior inappropriate.
“I really think it’s rude and disrespectful,” she continued. “It’s OK to be excited about something, but it’s not OK to be disrespectful.”
While Lewis-Coleman noted that she didn't feel physically threatened by Lalan, she said she felt police presence should be standard at community board meetings with "heated items" on the agenda. The last time the board called in the NYPD was during a meeting to discuss the East Village rezoning in 2007, according to CB3 district manager Susan Stetzer.
Other frustrated community members took to the microphone during the public session to voice fears of displacement and urge the board to support the group’s plan in its entirety, which includes an 85-foot height limit in Chinatown and a 350-foot height limit along the waterfront, as well as as stipulations for permanent low-income housing and limits on commercial developments.
“Years ago we were told we had to wait our turn for equal protection against luxury high rises,” said group member Wendy Chung. “To this day, we are still being told we are asking too much. Every day we see families being evicted….Our community is getting smaller and smaller.”
The police officers left without incident following the public session portion of the meeting.