After three years of rancorous debate and protest from local residents, the City Council is now poised to approve the de Blasio administration’s plan to rezone Inwood. Today the Council's Zoning and Franchise subcommittee and the Land Use committee voted in favor of the plan, despite vocal opposition by Inwood community members who argued that the rezoning would displace long-time residents and small business owners.
The votes mean that it is very likely the rezoning will pass a full Council vote next week.
It was unclear how Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents Washington Heights and Inwood, would come down on the measure. He was supposed to hold a press conference after the vote, but instead arrived to City Hall two hours late, before the vote was held.
In the end, Rodriguez supported the rezoning, citing concessions from the de Blasio administration. Most notably, the new plan excludes the “Commercial U” from the zoning map. This area includes Broadway, Dyckman Street, and West 207th Street, which are the streets that comprise the neighborhood’s main commercial corridors.
“I have listened to my residents and the local small business owners. I heard loud and clear that the rezoning was too large. For that reason, we have negotiated to remove the Commercial U from the rezoning,” Rodriguez said.
The elimination of most of the Commercial U is a victory for Inwood community members who have spent much of the summer organizing to protect the neighborhood’s largely immigrant-owned mom-and-pop stores. But even with that amendment, many Inwood residents are still wary of the proposal.
“You ‘saved’ the heart of Inwood you never intended to touch by taking out most of the Commercial U so you could justify cutting off the limbs of our community,” charged Inwood resident Chris Nickell.
Nancy Lucero, a community organizer with the Metropolitan Council on Housing, one of the organizations involved in drafting an alternative zoning plan for Inwood, told Gothamist that the Commercial U was actually an addition to an earlier draft of the rezoning proposal, and was introduced after she and other community members had already been opposing the plan for over a year.
Lucero believes that although the commercial corridors make up a significant chunk of the neighborhood, residents in other areas are still at risk of displacement with the encroachment of 14-story luxury condominiums.
“East of 10th Avenue is also a big part of the neighborhood where a lot of low income folks in rent stabilized housing live. And south of Dyckman, whose residents have no protections in this proposal—what about them?” she said.
Councilmember Rodriguez also announced his decision to support Inwood’s small businesses through “commercial rent controls,” which he claimed have never been used before in New York City. The controls would require 10-year leases between developer and their commercial renters. In practice, this means that unless an existing Inwood business can get a new lease (which is not often an easy task), the amendment would do little to protect it.
Mayor de Blasio has said that rezoning neighborhoods is crucial to incentivize developers to build more affordable housing in the city. Inwood would be the fifth neighborhood his administration has targeted for rezoning.
At the conclusion of the vote, Councilmember Francisco Moya apologized to the public for the tardiness of the vote, and blamed the Mayor’s Office for dragging negotiations out “until the 11th hour, down to the last second.” Moya also offered a few words on the state of affordable housing in New York City.
“We are in the midst of a housing crisis. If you haven’t noticed it’s because you’re not spending 40, 50, 70 percent of your income on housing, like many working class New Yorkers are,” he said. “The housing emergency is real and the market isn’t coming to rescue us. It’s time to create affordable housing because it’s the moral and human thing to do.”
The City Council will cast its final vote for the amended Inwood rezoning on August 8th.