In blow to De Blasio's housing plans, Inwood rezoning is axed

By Lucy Cohen Blatter | August 18, 2016 - 2:59PM 

Just last week, Upper Manhattan City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said he wasn't sure whether or not he'd vote in support of a rezoning plan allowing for a 400-plus unit rental building to be built at Sherman Avenue and Broadway in Inwood. But Rodriguez announced earlier this week that he'd been swayed by his constituents to vote against it. And this past Tuesday, the City Council shot down the vote, 45-0. Opponents were mostly concerned with the size and bulk of the building and the gentrification it might bring with it.

The project, proposed by developers Washington Square Partners and Acadia Realty Trust, would have been subject to Mayor Bill de Blasio's Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, which trades increased density for affordable housing (the goal is to build or retain 200,000 affordable units in the city). At the proposed Inwood building, 20 percent of apartments would have to be priced at 40 percent area median income (AMI) or 30 percent of units at 80 percent AMI. The developer had pledged to make 50 percent of the units affordable, but residents were afraid that those allotments wouldn't be enforcable if the developers sold the land before renting out apartments (which does happen).

Ava Farkas, executive director of the Metropolitan Council for Housing, says her organization was against the rezoning because they feared that the affordable housing units wouldn't actually be affordable to the community. "We saw it as a wolf in sheep's clothing, and a way for the developer to upzoen and build a very large building that would change the character of the neighborhood."

“This project was one that had challenges beyond a basic discussion of MIH," Councilman Rodriguez told Brick Underground. "While I remain an enthusiastic supporter of this historic housing framework, Sherman Plaza was a poor test case. This site sits right on a historic park that houses the Cloisters Museum; there are no neighboring buildings in the surrounding area that come close to the height and bulk of the rezoned proposal; and while I was open to and engaged in good faith conversations, we never reached a point where the community could be fully assured that any promises were enforceable.”

Without the zoning change, Acadia and Washington Square could build a much smaller, up-to-14-story structure with around 200 units, but the number of affordable housing units may be much less than they were promising.  While technically speaking, now the (smaller) building could be developed have no affordable housing at all, chances are the builders would need some sort of subsidy to make a market-rate rental project viable. 

Farkas says she thinks the community, which she herself is part of, living near the proposed development, would find a way to fight any plans that they think aren't fair. Plus, she says, the current owners have owned the space for years and haven't done anything like that yet.

"The problem [with the rezoning plan] is the precedent it would have set," says one local resident, who asked to remain anonymous. "Zoning is not something to be treated lightly. If it's changed, it needs to be done very carefully, and never for just a single property."


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