Our Chinatown rezoning story earlier this week generated a healthy amount of discussion, so we wanted to dive deeper into the issue and clarify some things. This will be a long process, and a rezoning may not happen at all. SPURA took 40 years to decide, and the Chinatown Working Group has been grappling with the Chinatown rezoning issue for over four years, but things are very much in the preliminary stage. Ultimately, a rezoning might not happen, despite groups like the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side pushing for one.
"The truth is that the Chinatown Working Group has said that they will consider hiring a consultant next spring. No rezoning has been approved nor is moving forward. An agreement between the CWG has yet to be reached on this point. I support the Chinatown Working Group as they continue to work on this important project, however, there remains a long road ahead," said Council Member Margaret Chin in a statement to Curbed.
Displacement is already happening.
Little Italy has no native Italians, according to the latest census. And Chinatown is no longer the most populous Chinese-American neighborhood: Flushing in Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn both have more Chinese residents, according to the Asian American Federation. Rents are cheaper in the outer boroughs, and there is more room for new developments. In Manhattan's Chinatown, new projects like the Wyndham Hotel have led to the evacuation of neighboring residential buildings and drawn protests. As some readers mentioned, this shift is a function of economics. Manhattan's rental market has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, and many new renters are looking at Chinatown, which is likely to send prices even higher.
A formal rezoning has teeth. A community plan does not.
There is a big difference between a community plan, which lays out principles for development, and a formal rezoning, which legally regulates the size and usage of buildings. One clear example of this disparity happened in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, where the community spent years working on a plan that called for medium and low density buildings. After City Planning upzoned the waterfront, allowing new condos like the Edge and Northside Piers, Tom Angotti of Hunter College (which was also a consultant on the Coalition rezoning proposal for Chinatown) argued that the upzoning would create a "monolithic upscale bedroom community." However...
Tall buildings and affordable housing are not mutually exclusive.
Northside Piers and the Edge both have affordable housing components, and the city's recent policy has been to finance new developments with 80 percent market rate units and 20 percent affordable units. Although the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side is seeking downzonings in the area, the Chinatown Working Group said a consultant will do research on the issue and no zoning plan has been finalized.
"The CWG working team that handles zoning matters came up with some preliminary principles as to what should go into a rezoning of Chinatown, and foremost one of them was affordable housing," said Anthony Wong, a co-chair of the Chinatown Working Group in an email. "As to the degree of affordable housing and the height of buildings, that is all being left up to the consultant who will take a look at some of the ideas members have suggested, do their own research on updated data of the area, and come back to the group at the end of six months with their idea of what type of rezoning is viable based on the group's principals of making sure there's affordable housing and fostering preservation."
"So right now there are currently no official plans, just suggestions, as the group as a whole has not voted on anything yet until after it has reviewed what the consultant comes up with," said Wong.
You can get involved.
The Chinatown Working Group has an email list. The group also has monthly meetings, which are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7 at the American Legion Post 1291, 191-193 Canal Street, 2nd Floor.
· How a Proposed Rezoning Might Transform Chinatown [Curbed]