Second Round of Public Hearings on the Rezoning of Inwood

Manhattan Borough president Gale Brewer apparently has to sign off on the Rezoning Plan that developers are pushing to fully monetize the quiet, bucolic village on the northernmost end of Manhattan Island.   It is a multi-billion dollar plan and unknown parties stand to make a real shitload of money if the gentrification plan goes through.

The Borough President will make her recommendation to the City Council on April 25.   She sent all Inwood residents a very well-designed brochure that lays out the bones of the proposed plan, with a map showing where developers will be allowed to build mixed use apartment buildings of up to 295 feet tall.   My street, I learned, is considered part of the Upland Core and apparently will not be rezoned for any building higher than the current six story limit.

At the meeting last night I asked for the deadline to submit a written statement in opposition to this rezoning plan.   Friday, April 13, the day after tomorrow, I was told.  So be it.   Thought I’d start a draft here, as I don’t have much time to get it done and submitted:

Dear Borough President Brewer:

Please vote NO on the current rezoning plan for Inwood. 

At minimum, please recommend severing the fate of the Inwood Public Library from the larger rezoning plan.   The issue of demolishing our public library for private profit warrants its own debate.  Our children, and all of us in this working class enclave, deserve no less.

For starters, thank you so much for the beautifully designed mailer with the map.  I think the formulation:  no rezoning = gentrification, bad rezoning = gentrification needs one more equation:  current rezoning plan = wildly accelerated gentrification.     It was a great help to read the steps of the process and see the layout of the planned changes and the extent that high rises will be allowed to spring up in our historically low-rise district of Manhattan.  The opacity of this developer-enriching plan has been a major problem all along.

To cite one example to stand in for the rest, the almost unreadably legalistic “Whereas” “Whereas” of CB12’s approval of this proposed development plan.   The lack of readily digestible information on the full scope of this plan that will further enrich unnamed developers and provide new market rent apartments for up to 80% of the 14,000 new Inwood residents is a major impediment to intelligent public debate.

I moved to Inwood more than forty years ago.  I used to bike up to play softball in Inwood Park and fell in love with the sleepy little village of Inwood and the sprawling, beautiful nature reserve.   My first lease for my rent stabilized apartment was $182.  My stabilized rent today is $805.   My neighbors upstairs and downstairs each pay at least twice that, even though each has a ‘preferential’ rent taking some of the sting out of it for them (since the landlord claims he could legally charge them even more).

There are many problems with the plan, including most obviously, the massive crowding that will occur as a result of the new density proposed by those who profit from building high-rise market rent buildings.  You noted that there are currently 16,000 rental apartments in Inwood.   The construction proposed in the rezoning plan will bring in 14,000 new residents, most of them willing to pay “market rents” of $2,000-$2,500 and more.   It doesn’t take a mathematician to look at these numbers and see how drastically, and disproportionately, the proposed plan will increase crowding in Inwood and otherwise affect the character of this quiet, working class family neighborhood.

The new high-rises and large influx of new market rent renters will make the rezoned neighborhood suddenly “hot” and seen as a great real estate deal in Manhattan.  This will give private landlords of existing buildings even more incentive to harass and evict tenants.   This is already a major problem in Inwood, and would become much more severe, once the profit motive gets the shot of steroids this accelerated development deal would instantly deliver.

Beyond overcrowding, loss of affordable housing, displacement of long-time residents, more stress on an overtaxed antiquated infrastructure (including the ancient sewers), increased car traffic and pollution, increased subway crowding on already underserved lines, there are other ominous features in this gentrification rezoning plan.

One is the continued silence on the question of the Inwood Library.   We were told by the representative from the EDC that a wonderful new library will be provided in the common space at the base of a massive new high-rise to be built on the library’s present footprint.   The credibility of the EDC is not bolstered by its touting of the $30,000,000 improvement of Highbridge Park, a park 1.4 miles south of Inwood (Google maps), as an example of how this plan will improve life for residents of Inwood.  They also made a bold and ridiculous claim about 100% affordable housing in development along with a new modern branch of the Inwood Library (see EDC “fact sheet” Inwood NYC Snapshot.)

Why is it necessary to demolish our library for the profit of a private developer who seeks maximum return on the largest possible number of units in his new 80% ‘market rate’ building?  What is the plan for the year or more of construction of this massive new high-rise?

Most of our overcrowded local schools do not have libraries.  The Inwood Public library is an invaluable community resource.  Presumably, according to advocates of the rezoning plan, including the EDC, it will be an even better one several years from now, when the children of the well-to-do new residents will be able to take an elevator downstairs to pick up their books.  What of the interim?

I am filled with a sense of futility about the fate of my neighborhood.   I have seen the massive displacements in every other area of the city where accelerated gentrification plans have been approved.  We have seen wealthy powerbrokers ramming neighborhood-killing deals through reluctant, ill-informed, politically weak citizenry going back to the days before Robert Moses was even a malevolent glint in his father’s eye.  

I had hopes for something better under Mayor de Blasio, although the forces acting on him, as on our compliant local Inwood politicians, most of whom sent representatives to speak for them rather than face the massive crowd at the CB12 meeting, seem to suggest that, well… there are forces that are just too powerful, well-connected and relentless to resist.  Political reality, I suppose, in an era when gigantic political donations are considered free speech.   We have an administration in Washington full of people who have lobbied for and profited from favorable government regulation, brazen about the appearance of impropriety in their dealings, being the beneficiaries of our two-tiered winner vs. loser approach to justice.   Our current president, as a developer, was the recipient of $885,000,000 in tax abatements and other breaks to build luxury buildings, much of this public generosity coming at the expense of New York City (source: NY Times 9-18-16)

Your opening remarks at the Public Meeting of April 10th gave me the hope that you understand and are sensitive to the dynamics of this rezoning plan, and its likely fallout for Inwood residents should it be implemented.   As I’ve noted, I’m not optimistic about the combined comments of all the current residents of Inwood amounting to a hill of beans in this discussion.  Not when put onto the balance against the powerful forces of progress and economic growth who stand to reap untold millions on this plan.

Their representatives speak of freedom on the march, open spaces, open waterfronts (the Hudson is already open, there is a long public park there), new community spaces, universal pre-K, a gleaming new lobby library, etc.   They pitch this as progress, but, as one panelist pointed out to deserved applause, the plan will benefit mostly the newcomers and absolutely come at the expense of many current residents of Inwood.

It is my weary hope that you will defy the expectations of the powerbrokers and real-estate profiteers and vote against this insatiably overreaching rezoning plan. Whatever else this plan might be, it is not designed in the interests of those of us who currently call Inwood our home.  

At minimum, please recommend severing the Inwood Public Library from the larger rezoning plan. The issue of demolishing our library warrants its own debate. Why is public property being ceded to a private interest?   The closing of the library, even if only for a year or two (an eternity in a young child’s life), deprives the people of Inwood of a community resource vital to education and democracy itself.   Selling the public library to a private developer merits its own discussion.    Our children, and all of us in this working class enclave, deserve no less.

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