Trouble Brewing

Manhattan borough president rejects city’s East Harlem rezoning proposal

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Manhattan borough president rejects city's East Harlem rezoning proposal. (Francisco Daum/Flickr)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer formally announced today that she opposed the city’s proposal to rezone East Harlem; the rezoning would bring more high-rise residential development to the area.

In a detailed report, Brewer cited the proposed concentrated density along Third and Park Avenues, a lack of new affordable housing units, and a failure to preserve existing affordable housing units as reasons for rejecting the proposal. She also criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for not taking into account the concerns raised by Community Board 11.

We are left with an incomplete picture of what the impact of this application will be and how we can ensure the better future for the community promised by the applicant,” Brewer wrote. “Ultimately, the current proposal falls short in both the land use and the programmatic categories.” 

The rezoning proposal would allow the buildings in a 96-block stretch of East Harlem to be built higher in order to incentivize development in the neighborhood. Consequently, according to Brewer, the plan would enable building forms that would tip the balance towards market-rate development and not affordable housing.

The proposal has incited backlash and controversy from the neighborhood’s residents; a Community Board 11 meeting in June descended into chaos when residents stormed the stage. Locals fear that rezoning will only expedite the rapid gentrification that is spreading.

The rezoning is part of Mayor de Blasio’s broader push to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.

But East Harlem, while a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of affordable housing, has been steadily losing its affordable housing stock. About 80 percent of the people who live in the neighborhood live in some form of regulated housing and approximately 12,000 households that face severe housing needs, according to the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan (ENHP).

The ENHP was submitted to the administration in 2016, supported by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brewer, and focused on a bottom-up approach to de Blasio’s plan.

“Here, the community gave extensive, thoughtful and informed input, but the administration could not see its way to support significant elements of the community’s recommendations, which forces me to recommend a disapproval of the application,” Brewer said.

Although Brewer’s lack of support is non-binding, the plan is expected to undergo changes before making its way to the City Planning Commission and City Council.

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