From SoHo to Gowanus via the Upper East Side, from Blasio Developments Hit Council

City council is expected to tackle three crucial land use decisions on Tuesday that could reshape parts of New York City – in one case, potentially toppling a fellow lawmaker in its territory.

While all three proposals sparked opposition, the battle over the New York Blood Center’s plan to build a 16-story life science center at its current 67th Street site threatened to upend the tradition of the Council: the zoning subcommittee is expected to approve the proposal against the wishes of local council member Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan).

Municipal Councilor Ben Kallos
Emil Cohen / New York City Council

Meanwhile, city hall and city councilor Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), the comptroller-elect, are arguing over how much Blasio’s administration will commit to spending to improve nearby public housing developments. in order to obtain the approval of the Council of its project of rezoning of the polluted areas. Gowanus district.

The rezoning, which is due to be voted on by the Zoning and Franchise Subcommittee on Tuesday, would spur construction of up to 8,000 new apartments, as well as stores and parks, and help clean up the Gowanus Canal, which the government Federal declared a superfund site.

And the subcommittee will hold a potentially contentious public hearing remotely on Tuesday only on Blasio’s administration plan to rezon SoHo and NoHo to authorize 3,200 new housing units in Lower Manhattan as well as overhaul a cumbersome approval process. retail stores.

The rezonages of Gowanus and SoHo both aim to use affordable housing to attract more people of color to some of the city’s whitest and wealthiest neighborhoods.

The three projects are seen, to varying degrees, as key to the legacy of Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose eight-year term ends on December 31. Meanwhile, the plans represent the last positions for many Council members – Kallos and Lander, among them – who will leave at the end of next month due to term limits.

In search of blood

The Blood Center’s proposal garnered support within Council with its argument that the project would fuel the development of a life sciences sector, a priority of the last two municipal governments.

Last week, the council’s black, Latin and Asian caucus called on Kallos, who sided with opponents fearing the center block tower would cast shadows, to reach a deal with the center.

Council land use committee chairman Rafael Salamanca (D-The Bronx) said on Monday he would support the expansion of the Blood Center, despite opposition from Kallos.

“What’s better for New York City and New Yorkers?” Not having any shadows or developing a nonprofit organization that plays such a vital role, ”he told POLITICO New York.

City Councilor Rafael Salamanca developed asthma growing up in the Bronx.

Board Member Rafael Salamanca

Later Monday, mayor-elect Eric Adams weighed in, also urging the council to find a compromise – saying it “should come to yes” on the Blood Center’s proposal, set for an area that is home to some of the best hospitals in the region. city. .

Kallos does not admit defeat and says his hand was strengthened by an unusual legal challenge filed by attorney Marc Bresky on behalf of a condominium and co-op adjacent to Blood Center – and the support of some members of the advice.

The New York Blood Center has proposed a 16-story development to replace their building on East 67th Street.

The New York Blood Center has proposed a 16-story life science center to replace its building on East 67th Street.

The legal maneuver involves what is known as a “protest” under Section 200 (a) (3) of the City Charter, which allows property owners located within 100 feet of land under construction. rezoning or whose property is included in a rezoning to oppose a resolution approved by the Planning Commission. If they do, the Council would have to approve the draft by a qualified three-quarters majority, rather than by a simple majority vote.

“I don’t believe there will be 39 votes” for the project, Kallos said. “Even those who support the project have told me that they support the deference of the members.”

Blood Center legal advisers said previous challenges like this failed because they did not meet charter requirements. They expect this one to also fail because the opposing co-op and condo does not make up 20% of the land area as required.

“Nowhere ready”

The Gowanus plan has been in the works for more than five years, and supporters say the community – and especially Lander – has been involved from the start.

The administration also said the project was also crucial for the city’s desegregation. The neighborhood is 63% white and high-income, with an average household income of $ 120,000, both well above the city average.

“An incredible 35% of the units to be created – some 3,000 – must be deeply and sustainably affordable,” said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Brooklyn-based Fifth Avenue committee, which is set to build 950 units. for lower prices. – income households if the plan is approved. “This rezoning would help advance equitable housing and reverse the trend towards a whiter, richer community, and promote greater resilience and local responsibility. “

Looking north from Union Street on the Gowanus Canal.  The background to the left are housing projects bordering the rezoning area.  In the background to the right are the luxury residences that rise to the sky from downtown Brooklyn.

Looking north from Union Street on the Gowanus Canal
Jason Scott Jones / THE CITY

Opponents argued that the neighborhood is already diverse and overcrowded. But most of the criticism has been about environmental issues, including concerns that documented risks may not reflect the full picture.

“The Environmental Impact Statement was approved by the Planning Commission just a week after Hurricane Ida hit Gowanus and revealed how local infrastructure and current design plans are far from ready. for the development that will start when this rezoning is approved, “said Martin Bisi, owner of BC Studio Gowanus, and member of the opposition group Voice Of Gowanus.

Still on the table, there is some sort of way for the community to monitor the plan at the start of construction.

But the main sticking point in Gowanus is the amount of money the administration will commit to rehabilitate NYCHA’s Gowanus and Wyckoff subdivisions. The price to pay is north of $ 200 million.

Lander, who will become the city’s comptroller in January, hopes to have a deal with the administration before tomorrow’s vote.

“A rare opportunity”

The SoHo plan met fierce opposition from the community, who argued it would endanger the area’s unique architecture and its protected status as a historic district. Enemies oppose the increase in density, efforts to liberalize very strict restrictions on retailing in the region, and argue it could displace current residents, including artists.

Buyers descend Broadway in SoHo on July 6, 2021.

Shoppers walk down Broadway in SoHo.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

But supporters of the plan have also mobilized, in particular on the need to desegregate the city and the pressure to build more affordable housing.

“This is a rare opportunity to increase housing capacity in Lower Manhattan and to do so in a way that ensures the availability of affordable housing,” said Carl Weisbrod, for many years president of the Alliance for Downtown New York and de Blasio’s first head of the town planning committee. “The argument that this will somehow displace a wealthy community protected by property or rent regulation strikes me as fallacious.”

The rezoning and blood center proposals are expected to go to full city council for a vote. If OK, the measurements would be sent to de Blasio for final approval.

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