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City Planning Mega-Hearing Follow-up

Yesterday’s City Planning Commission hearing on the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning, the Hunter’s Point South plan, and the Willets Point redevelopment began at 9am and lasted well into the evening. What a day!

Things got underway shortly after 9am, beginning with the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning.  Local elected officials, including Council Members Rosie Mendez and Alan Gerson all spoke in favor of the plan. Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) packed the house with supporters, who held signs calling for a similar rezoning process for Chinatown.  The opposition, led primarily by the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, staged a protest outside the NYU Law School building where the hearing was held.  According to one representative, they refused to come inside and participate in what she called a “sham.” Still, testimony was very balanced between those in support and those in opposition. Yelling inside was kept to a minimum, although a few tense moments arose during testimony by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who spoke in support of the plan but questioned City Planning’s motives for holding hearings on three such controversial projects on the same day, and during testimony by a Chinatown resident who spoke in opposition and called out Chinese supporters as “sell outs.” (It got harsher from there, but we’ll spare you). Many speakers called for a compromise – to halt passage of the plan until parts of Community Board 3 in Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and the Bowery that were left out can be included.  It is impossible to tell how Commissioners will vote, but if their questions to the speakers are any indication, they may be leaning toward passage of the plan with minor adjustments to its boundaries and a call for an expedient rezoning of Chinatown and the Bowery.

The Hunter’s Point South portion of the hearing began in the early afternoon, with representatives from HPD and other City agencies speaking in favor of the plan to create a high-density, mixed-use, middle-income affordable housing development on the Queens waterfront. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall also spoke in favor. Local community groups such as the Pratt Center for Community Development and Queens Community House spoke in opposition, pointing out that the level of affordability available under the current plan is actually out-of-reach for the majority of Queens residents. Commissioners gave indication that they may ask for new numbers from HPD to determine the feasibility of adding more low-income affordability.

Around 3:30pm, the Willets Point hearing (scheduled to begin around 1pm), began. Opponents of the plan also staged a protest outside, shortly after the East Village/Lower East Side protest ended. Cries of “Willets Point not for sale!” were emphasized by a large dump truck displaying a sign supporting the protesters and honking its horn. Inside, EDC presented its plan, which would include new housing, a convention center, retail, open space, and a school.  However, as many opponents and Commissioners pointed out, no developer has been chosen and HPD has yet to provide solid numbers about the affordable housing component.  Therefore, the Commission may find it difficult to make an informed vote. Challengers of the plan also pointed out problems with everything from the environmental remediation needed on the site to the lack of mitigation of traffic problems in the EIS.

Queens BP Helen Marshall spoke in favor of this plan as well, with harsh words for those who work there, siting a recent NY Times article in which two Mets fans accidentally wandered into Willets Point and said they feared for their lives. Many, including local business owners, spoke in opposition, representing the thriving businesses that would be displaced. When this reporter called it a day around 5:30pm, the hearing was still going strong.

All in all, it was a long day for the Commissioners.  We agree with both Borough Preisdent Stringer and Queens Counicl Member Hiram Monserrate’s sentiments that each of these plans deserved its own day, so that Commissioners would have been better equipped to give each the full attention it deserved, and so the working people who wanted to speak would have a better idea of what time they needed to be present.

Also check out the NY Times coverage.