EAST VILLAGE — A plan to cap shop sizes within a large area of the East Village to protect small businesses from encroaching big-name chains is a thinly veiled scheme to edge bars out of the neighborhood that would actually tank the local economy, a group representing titans of the New York real estate industry claims.
The Real Estate Board of New York has shot down Community Board 3’s proposed “special zoning district” — which would significantly restrict store size, width and use — arguing the pitch is an “abuse of zoning tools” that would prevent new enterprises from growing and thriving while deliberately crushing nightlife establishments.
If the notoriously liquor-soaked board has a problem with nightlife noise, they should be calling 311 instead of proposing zoning overlays, said a REBNY rep.
“We feel the community board has an enforcement issue, not a zoning issue,” said Jamie McShane, REBNY’s senior vice president of communications. “They need to call 311 or the police if there are noise complaints. They have an issue with enforcement…the issue is not a zoning issue.
"They're trying to eliminate nightlife establishments," he continued.
The proposed district currently falls within the borders of East 14th Street, Houston Street, Second Avenue and Avenue D.
It calls for limiting shop size to 2,500 square feet and width to 25 feet, prohibiting combined storefronts, and mandating how much street frontage per block could be taken up by a particular use — no more than a quarter of any block in the zone could be taken up by restaurants and bars, for instance, and only one chain store or bank would be permitted per block.
The description of the proposed district provided by the board’s Economic Development Committee specifically states the proposal is not meant to drive out existing businesses or nightlife, but to preserve retail diversity and neighborhood character.
The overlay was initially proposed by the East Village Community Coalition last year, but the sudden influx of big retailers Target and Trader Joe’s — both of which will soon unfurl new locations on East 14th Street near Avenue A — made it a priority for the board. Small business owners, fearing the shifting commercial trends that could avalanche after the arrival of the national chains, have spoken in favor of the plan.
But REBNY — which represents 17,000 real estate professionals including landlords, developers and brokers — says the restrictions would dampen business growth, and argued the plan is based on the faulty premise that rising rents are pushing out small businesses.
“The fact of the matter is that both national chains…and local mom and pop stores are facing unprecedented retail challenges that stem from a lack of demand due to burgeoning e- commerce, not high rents,” reads a testimony provided by REBNY, which was submitted at a Wednesday forum on the proposal.
The testimony goes on to argue that small businesses often fail, and that most of those failures are due to “lack of experience and general incompetence" based on reports.
Community Board 3 Chairman Jamie Rogers declined to comment on REBNY’s claim that the proposal seeks to eliminate nightlife, but said the board’s Economic Development Committee will evaluate all comments and criticisms generated at Wednesday’s forum in deciding how to move forward.
“I was very glad the committee was able to hear perspectives from all sides of the complicated issue of how to encourage small business development in our community,” Rogers wrote in a statement. “Speakers, from REBNY to local business owners to residents, not only highlighted problems but presented an array of possible solutions.”
You can read REBNY's full testimony below.