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East Village Special Zoning District Must Protect the Bowery, Advocates Say

 Advocates at a recent community meeting called on the community board to expand the boundaries of a proposed special district to protect the Bowery from chain stores.
Advocates at a recent community meeting called on the community board to expand the boundaries of a proposed special district to protect the Bowery from chain stores.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

EAST VILLAGE — Representatives of a historic cemetery are joining other neighborhood activists in demanding the expansion of a proposed "special zoning district" capping store size and use to include the Bowery, fearing big-name chains and construction could ruin the resting place's peaceful ambience. 

A tentative plan to significantly restrict storefront size and limit chain stores and bars only falls within the borders of East 14th Street, Houston Street, Second Avenue and Avenue D — but advocates want the same protections for the Bowery, which currently falls a block west of the proposed boundaries.

Trustees of the New York Marble Cemetery, a small gated green space bordered by Second Avenue, the Bowery and East Second and Third streets, along with members of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors showed up at Tuesday night's Community Board 3 meeting equipped with pink signs reading "Save the Bowery" to demand the inclusion of the famed thoroughfare.

"The whole idea of extending the economic district to the Bowery is absolutely necessary, and in regard to our cemetery — it's really park, and it's open twice a month. It's really a very welcome feature to the neighborhood," said cemetery trustee Eliot Rowlands.

"We don’t want to have that beautiful spot turned into something like Central Park in the '60s, surrounded by skyscrapers and bars or whatever," he continued. "Degrading the East Village's sense of historic place in the community by ugly overdevelopment would be a tragedy."

Besides preserving the space's oasis-like feel, the cemetery is also concerned with preserving the graveyard's ancient walls, which could be endangered by a possible influx of construction without the protections guaranteed by a rezoning, argued another trustee.

"One of our major concerns is migration from truck traffic and construction activity as our fragile walls continue to be very susceptible to collapse," said cemetery trustee Breck Denny. 

Seven community members, including the cemetery trustees, showed up Tuesday to implore the board to expand the plan's boundaries — the board normally allows only six speakers per item.

The lack of protections on the thoroughfare could mean the erasure of neighborhood history, advocates said.

"Denying inclusion to this proposed district will leave the area vulnerable to chain stores — this will forever destroy the sense of context in this historic area," said Michelle Campo, vice president of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors.

The plan currently being reviewed by the community board would limit store size to 2,500 square feet and width to 25 feet, prohibit combined storefronts, and mandate 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, while only one chain store or bank would be allowed per block.

The proposal is an adaption of a plan pitched by neighborhood group the East Village Community Coalition last year. It has been championed by small business owners fearing the encroachment of national chains as Target and Trader Joe’s prepare to move into the neighborhood, and has been shot down by the Real Estate Board of New York as a thinly-veiled scheme to destroy nightlife.

The community board recently held a forum to gather feedback on the district, and plans to finalize a proposal to bring to the Department of City Planning by the end of the year.