WASHINGTON HEIGHTS – Dozens of activists worked the streets in Northern Manhattan over the weekend, collecting signatures from residents in a bid to stop Sherman Plaza in Inwood, the first individual project to be built under Mayor Bill de Blasio's controversial Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rezoning.
The application for the project, which was first introduced and shot down by the community in March, originally revolved around a 23-story mixed used apartment building on Sherman Avenue and Broadway.
The developer, Washington Square Partners, has since lowered the building threshold to “17 stories maximum” after meeting with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in May. The plan was approved by City Planning last month and currently sits with the City Council.
But opponents say even the reduced-height project sets a “bad precedent” in the community.
“There are already other proposals submitted, and if [Sherman Plaza] is allowed, they’re going to turn Washington Heights and Inwood into a corridor of luxury high-rises,” said Samuel Biagetti, spokesman for the Uptown Progressive Alliance, previously Uptown for Bernie, one of the groups leading the petitioning.
As of Monday, 475 people had signed the petition, which Biagetti and members of the nonprofit Riverside Edgecombe Neighborhood Association (RENA), carried as they canvassed from Plaza de Las Americas to Inwood on Saturday and Sunday.
Longtime residents, like Luis Genao, who said he was born and raised in Washington Heights, thinks elected officials need to do more to preserve and work on the housing that’s currently available.
Genao said he works two jobs, including one with the city, and has been looking for an affordable apartment for two years.
“I was using the [city’s] website NYC Housing Connect, but I’m always off by like $1K or something,” he said. “I’m not making enough to pay the rent.”
Inwood Preservation, a Facebook group that launched earlier this year to address concerns about zoning changes and building proposals in the community, have also collected 988 signatures online and 346 offline as of Monday morning, officials said. Their group has more than 230 members.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said in a statement Saturday that he continues to hear “loud and clear the voices of concern as it relates to this project, particularly relating to height and affordability.”
"While my office continues to negotiate, it is crucial that substantial housing affordable to Northern Manhattan residents; commercial and office space available to local businesses; as well as a dedicated space for cultural organizations, are included in any final product,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is also spearheading the Inwood Planning Initiative, with the New York City Economic Development Corporation and other city agencies, which is proposing that streets north of Academy St. and east of 10th Ave. be rezoned for “mixed-use” developments and waterfronts.
The City Council is on a deadline to vote on the Sherman Plaza application before Aug. 16, said Russell Murphy, Rodriguez’s Deputy Chief of Staff, adding that a vote will be scheduled “some time before that date.”
Murphy said no town hall meeting has been planned to discuss the project further, although their team is not ruling it out.
“Our office organized the last public meeting and nothing has changed greatly in the application since that time,” Murphy said. “If anything does, we will revisit the idea, but another public meeting would likely be redundant.”
But even newcomers to the neighborhood said the proposal is a “bad idea.”
“I’m all for development, and I think you have to have redevelopment… But there are certain places you have to preserve,” said Tim York, who has been living in Washington Heights for over five years.
Murphy said the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will hold a hearing and review the application for Sherman Plaza on Tuesday starting at 9:30 a.m. The hearing is open to the public.