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Inwood rezoning opponents take their battle to court

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A year later, critics argued in court that the city’s rezoning is “illegally adopted”

A busy intersection in Inwood, Manhattan is shown with cars zipping through. A train passes on the above ground subway over the intersection. A row of apartment buildings are in the background.
The City Council approved a rezoning of Inwood in 2018. Critics continue their fight against it a year later.
Craig Ruttle/AP Photo

A lawsuit that seeks to block the de Blasio administration’s fiercely contested Inwood rezoning pushed forward in Manhattan Supreme Court, more than a year after the City Council green-lit the proposal.

The suit’s plaintiffs, Inwood group Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale and a coalition of community advocates, argue that the city did not conduct a proper environmental review of zoning changes that target 59 blocks in Inwood for greater density. Attorney Michael Sussman argued in Manhattan Supreme Court Tuesday that the city failed to fully study how the rezoning will impact that neighborhood by not exploring the racial breakdown on residential displacement, the impact on minority- and women-owned businesses, the temporary loss of the neighborhood’s library, and the glut of congestion the rezoning could spur.

“We’re supposed to have policy study and understand the consequences before the rezoning occurs, not after,” Sussman said in court.

That improper environmental impact study, not the actual findings of the review, are grounds for Supreme Court Justice Verna Saunders to annul the City Council’s 2018 approval of the rezoning, Sussman charges. The plantiffs’ attorney also noted that the Council voted on the plan two months before the city produced what is known as a finding statement, a document meant to aid in the decision-making process.

But the city’s lawyers say the de Blasio administration’s review complied with city and state legal standards, arguing that there is no precedent that requires the city study rezoning impacts by race, ethnicity, or national origin. Lawyers for the city stressed that a thorough analysis of several impacts were conducted and that community advocates merely don’t agree with their findings.

“They can’t say that no analysis was done. They simply don’t agree with the analysis that was done,” charged Amy McCamphill, senior counsel in the environmental law division of the city’s Law Department.

Ayisha Oglivie, the chair of health and human services committee for Community Board 12 and a member of Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale and Inwood Legal Action, called the city’s arguments “nonsense.” She objected to the city’s argument that it is not required to study the concerns raised by locals and that the rezoning was a response to concerns about preserving the community.

“I was appalled that that was an argument they would even make,” said Oglivie. “That they would argue that we asked for this rezoning is nonsense. It’s nonsense.”

Billed by the de Blasio administration as a means to preserve the community by creating affordable housing, the rezoning would predominantly affect two large swaths of land east of Tenth Avenue, where the low-rise landscape of one- and two- story warehouses can now be replaced by commercial developments and residential towers can soar up to 30 stories.

Under the plan, the city aims to create at least 1,600 new affordable apartments. At least 925 would be constructed on city-owned land, and some 675 on private land as part of the city’s Mandatory Inclusion Housing program, which requires developers include a certain number of affordable units in market-rate developments. The administration contends that another 2,500 units will be preserved and protected though the rezoning.

The city has not backed down from its support of the approvals process.

“The City stands by the approvals it made authorizing this important initiative,” said Law Department spokesperson Christian Madrid. “We remain committed to delivering the investments this community needs, which includes the preservation and development of affordable homes, restoration and creation of waterfront parks, new jobs, educational resources and small business support.”

Justice Saunders will release her decision on the case in the coming months.