Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: Waterfronts and East Harlem

The City Council -- in addition to introducing legislation that would extend term limits from two to three terms -- unanimously passed a bill to develop a master plan for the city's waterfront last week.

The council also approved a rezoning plan for East Harlem.

Planning the Waterfont

Spearheaded by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the legislation (Intro 809) requires the Department of City Planning create a waterfront plan every decade.

The plan, the speaker said, is aimed at taking advantage of New York's location -- surrounded by an ocean, estuary and river.

"As we all know, we are a river city," said Quinn. "This (bill) will make sure that we never again, as a city, walk away from our waterfront and our river as a great resource."

The city has 578 miles of waterfront, which the speaker said can be used to create jobs, housing or for transportation. The bill requires the department assess all aspects of the city's waterfront, including what should be kept natural, for the public or for industry.

Zoning East Harlem

Back on land, the council approved a rezoning plan for East Harlem that would allow for mixed-use development on three predominantly vacant lots. The rezoning was approved by a vote of 45 to 5 with one abstention.

A development that is three years in the making, the East Harlem Media, Entertainment and Cultural Center will include 30,000 square feet of community and cultural space, 600 affordable apartments, a public plaza and a hotel. The entire development will be led by a group of seven developers and cost $700 million.

"This planning reflects what community-based planning is all about," said Councilmember Melissa Mark Viverito, who represents the area. "It really is a project that is going to bring great growth and development in a positive way to our neighborhood."

The community came out against the plan three years ago at its first introduction, said Mark Viverito. As a result, the city chose another developer to spearhead the plan and incorporated the community's perspective.

About 82 percent of the land, which is between 125th Street and 127th Street near Second Avenue, is owned by the city. The city is currently negotiating with private owners to acquire and develop the remaining land, according to the council.

The negative votes, members said, reflected opposition to the city's use of eminent domain to make may for the new project.

"These are top-down benefit plans," said Councilmember Charles Barron, who voted against the plan. "Harlem is being gentrified."

Given the scope of the project and the current economic crisis, members of the administration expressed hope last week that the project would still be able to move forward, saying the community was in dire need of its amenities.

A Tax Break For Affordable Housing

The council unanimously approved a tax exemption (Intro 823), as part of its J-51 tax program, for an affordable housing development in Chelsea. The development, Penn South, was recently assessed above the cap for the tax break program -- $40,000 per unit -- because of its location in a highly gentrified area, said Quinn. Now the 2,820-unit development, which houses 6,000 residents, can remain "permanently affordable."

The program allows property owners to make capital improvements on the building without their assessments increasing.  


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