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Rezoning approved for Manhattan’s last affordable neighborhood; residents fear it’s a gentrification victory

Posted at 7:00 PM, Aug 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-02 19:00:27-04

INWOOD, Manhattan — A rezoning plan for Inwood has been heavily protested by large groups of residents over the course of many months, but on Thursday, a scaled down version of the proposal got onto the fast track to approval.

A city council subcommittee gave the plan the green light, before residents who've long opposed change got a chance to get a good look at it.

It's a proposal that would change the look and feel of this neighborhood, one of Manhattan's last pockets of relative affordability, forever. The proposal, which will see some 5,000 new units of housing built in this northern Manhattan neighborhood -- more than 25 percent of it classified as affordable -- was revised overnight Wednesday, and then re-negotiated in closed door meetings among city councilmembers all morning on Thursday.

The resulting proposal will allow for taller buildings in the western part of the neighborhood near Manhattan's northern tip. The area west of 10th Avenue will be upscaled, but new construction will not be as tall as originally proposed, according to preliminary assessments. To the east of 10th Avenue, buildings will be allowed to be even taller. The proposal will also add new schools and other additions to the community.

At the council subcommittee hearing, which was attended by developers, building trade union members and residents alike, there was a theme: that because the proposal that was being voted on had been newly minted, there was inadequate opportunity for analysis.

"I was happy there was something involved, but I really need to read the small print," said 40-year Inwood resident Catherine O'Sullivan.

That small print details the specifics of development being permitted for this neighborhood that has not been rezoned since John F. Kennedy was president. Now, though, the demand for quality, affordable housing in the city is so great, that the de Blasio Administration had pressed for zoning changes in Upper Manhattan.

The local councilmember, Ydanis Rodriguez, had generally been in favor of development, but said that vocal opposition from residents, who'd packed town hall meetings for the last few months, had led him to seek changes to the original rezoning proposal.

"I'm comfortable that the plan that we have negotiated today represents the voices that we listened to in the community," Rodriguez said after the city council subcommittee vote.

It passed unanimously, but it was not clear that all stakeholders felt that they'd gotten as much as they'd given with the new plan.

"We did not get the things that were most important," said uptown resident Lena Melendez, citing a lack of protections for affordable rents and for workers building the new structures that are expected to emerge over the next 15 years, under the new plan. "It's still going to be a massive displacement of low income people."

Long-time resident Jeanne Ruskin felt somewhat different.

"There are so many amendments, it has to be a new plan," she said about the new proposal, noting its perceived difference with the previous version of the rezoning plan.

A significant revamp, Ruskin said, "would be a good thing. That's what we hope."

She echoed other residents' sentiments, saying that reading the revised proposal in detail would help her get a better sense of whether or not it was beneficial overall to the neighborhood. Some details about the new plan are here.

The subcommittee's approval of the plan, which covers nearly 60 northern Manhattan city blocks, is expected to spur approval by the full city council. The council-wide vote is slated for next week.