News
08.02.2010
Planning for Overflow on Canal Street
Competing groups explore Chinatown's zoning future, with developers and small businesses at odds
Developers are trying to figure out how to best capitalize on the overcrowded spaces of Canal Street.
Courtesy CBPOG

A group of community members and developers in Chinatown is leading a push to evaluate existing conditions along Canal Street, with the goal of increasing building heights in the area. As part of the effort, the Chinatown Business and Property Owners Group, an ad hoc committee of real estate owners and developers, has commissioned a zoning study to document density along the neighborhood’s main roadway.

The developers hope the study, led by Claire Weisz of WXY Architecture + Urban Design, will influence a future 197-a plan for the neighborhood, a Chinatown Working Group (CWG) and Community Board–sponsored land-use guide for city agencies considering any future rezoning.

“The idea is that by looking at potential sites that are ripe for development, there’s a way to accommodate more public space,” said Weisz, whose firm will issue its report on pedestrian and public space in the fall, in time for the CWG selection of the urban planning consultant to prepare the 197-a.

The developers group is focusing its efforts on the core of Canal Street and Chinatown.

“We feel that development, especially near Centre Street and maybe at the Bowery, are good places to do signature gateway buildings,” said Douglas Woodward, a planning consultant employed by Edison Properties and a representative for the developers’ group.

Woodward pointed to *last year’s 125th Street rezoning as an example of what could be in Canal Street’s future. But like the Harlem plans, suggestions for rezoning have been met with opposition from many community organizations. Earlier this year, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side presented a study conducted with students and faculty at Hunter College’s Department of Urban Affairs and Planning that proposed *downzoning the area in an effort to prevent displacement of small businesses.

The Coalition has since decided to work with CWG on its proposals. CWG’s recent culture, affordability, and zoning proposal lists downzoning as one alternative, effectively blocking larger buildings and the higher commercial rents that could come with them, but the developers’ group argues that higher FAR could mean that more low-income housing is available. A second alternative suggests targeted upzoning along Canal with bonuses for inclusionary housing and required preservation of some Class B and C office space and existing manufacturing zones.

Areas of potential growth. (Click to zoom)

That alternative could come with public space and pedestrian circulation requirements for new developments. “Because it’s a street that hits various grids at a diagonal, you get all these wedges,” said Weisz. “Public space and design may have some interesting solutions for Canal Street.”

For now, Weisz’s study is collecting useful data about foot traffic and public space along Canal, information sorely lacking from the street’s history—in contrast to its numerous pedestrians.

Jennifer K. Gorsche