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How a Proposed Rezoning Might Transform Chinatown

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After four years of planning, the city's next big rezoning is in the works: Chinatown. And it's not just about changing height limits or property uses?it addresses a bigger question at the forefront of NYC urban planning right now. How does the city protect affordable housing, and who pays for it?

Chinatown and portions of the Lower East Side, which also falls under rezoning consideration, hold a big chunk of the city's public housing. Many of the buildings are surrounded by parks, which are nice for residents, but all the open space means that thousands of apartments could be built using existing air rights. NYCHA was already financially strained, and it's hurting even more after Hurricane Sandy. So there's pressure for the agency to raise revenue, which could be done by selling portions of NYCHA land to private developers. A study by the Manhattan Borough President's office found that Lower East Side NYCHA developments have 7.6 million square feet of unused air rights, or enough for over 9,000 apartment units.

The Chinatown Working Group, which has been organizing the rezoning effort, has endorsed a plan proposed by the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side, The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side has proposed an unofficial zoning plan that calls for 100 percent affordable housing on publicly owned land. This is the same demand the coalition made for the recently-passed SPURA development plans, and developers will surely say that it's an unrealistic requirement. The community plan also seeks to limit the heights of new buildings by decreasing the Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, from around 6 to 3 in many areas. (FAR determines how large a building can be relative to the plot of land. An FAR of 6 means that if the building covers the entire plot, it can be up to six stories tall, so an FAR of 3 would halve that.)

"People are attracted to the community because it is very diverse and vibrant. The only way it can stay that way is if people who are there now?mainly low-income families?are able to stay there," Bethany Li, an organizer with the Coalition, told us. "Otherwise, it's not going to be Chinatown/Lower East Side anymore. It's going to be completely different."

The Chinatown Working Group, which is organizing the zoning review, expects to hire a consultant next spring to refine and finalize existing proposals. This would include a review of the unofficial coalition document, explained Wilson Soo, a co-chair of the Chinatown Working Group. This review process is expected to take around six months.

The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and Lower East Side is pushing for a formal land use review process (ULURP) that would produce an actual rezoning, said Brian Paul, a research and policy coordinator at Common Cause New York, who drafted the original Coalition plan. If a full rezoning does take place, which is still undecided, it would require input from Community Board 1, the Manhattan borough president, and culminate in votes by City Planning and the City Council.

Back in November 2010, the Coalition created a list (Warning: PDF) of vacant lots and stalled construction sites, which were the most vulnerable to development. (There is also a list of other developable sites, which include parking lots and dilapidated buildings.) Last week, Curbed took a nighttime stroll around the neighborhood to update the list, and we've mapped our findings below. A few of the sites are under construction or have been completed, but many are still empty lots. Depending on what happens, we could see another wave of skinny hotel towers and condos, or perhaps something more affordable.

UPDATE, 12/18 3:40 p.m.: This post has been updated to clarify the status of the Coalition Plan and a potential ULURP. Wilson Soo also said that the Chinatown Working Group has not currently endorsed a ULURP.


?Roland Li
· Chinatown Rezoning coverage [Curbed]

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1. 89 Bowery and 128 Hester Street

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89 Bowery
New York, NY 10002

The Wyndham Garden Hotel at 93 Bowery epitomizes the harsh collision of old and new. In 2009, the construction of the 18-story glass tower weakened two neighboring tenements at 89 Bowery and 128 Hester Street, forcing an evacuation and demolition of both properties. These two sites are still empty, and tenants have held protests of the new hotel.

2. 5 Allen Street

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5 Allen St
New York, NY 10002

A previously stalled construction site is now a sleek Howard Johnson hotel, which is operated by the same Wyndham hotel group.

3. 2 Catherine Street

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2 Catherine St
New York, NY 10038

Another stalled site is now a completed commercial building but its ground floor retail space is empty, and it’s unclear if the upper floors are also occupied.

4. 1 Orchard Street

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1 Orchard St
New York, NY 10002

An office and retail building with a daycare and offices, one vacant retail space on the ground floor.

5. 86 Canal Street and 98 Canal Street

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86 Canal St
New York, NY 10002

This former site owned by slumlord Baruch Singer will be the Canal Tower, a 12-story building with 89 residential units and 900 square feet of community space, slated for completion on December 2013. It was up to four stories last week.

6. 283 Grand Street

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283 Grand St
New York, NY 10002

After the old building burnt down, a new commercial building was built. Currently empty.

7. 129 Henry Street

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129 Henry St
New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

8. 109 East Broadway

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109 E Broadway
New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

9. 247 Henry Street

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247 Henry St
New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

10. 225 East Broadway

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225 E Broadway
New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

11. 5 Essex Street

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5 Essex St
New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

12. 53 Hester Street

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53 Hester St
New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

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1. 89 Bowery and 128 Hester Street

89 Bowery, New York, NY 10002

The Wyndham Garden Hotel at 93 Bowery epitomizes the harsh collision of old and new. In 2009, the construction of the 18-story glass tower weakened two neighboring tenements at 89 Bowery and 128 Hester Street, forcing an evacuation and demolition of both properties. These two sites are still empty, and tenants have held protests of the new hotel.

89 Bowery
New York, NY 10002

2. 5 Allen Street

5 Allen St, New York, NY 10002

A previously stalled construction site is now a sleek Howard Johnson hotel, which is operated by the same Wyndham hotel group.

5 Allen St
New York, NY 10002

3. 2 Catherine Street

2 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038

Another stalled site is now a completed commercial building but its ground floor retail space is empty, and it’s unclear if the upper floors are also occupied.

2 Catherine St
New York, NY 10038

4. 1 Orchard Street

1 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002

An office and retail building with a daycare and offices, one vacant retail space on the ground floor.

1 Orchard St
New York, NY 10002

5. 86 Canal Street and 98 Canal Street

86 Canal St, New York, NY 10002

This former site owned by slumlord Baruch Singer will be the Canal Tower, a 12-story building with 89 residential units and 900 square feet of community space, slated for completion on December 2013. It was up to four stories last week.

86 Canal St
New York, NY 10002

6. 283 Grand Street

283 Grand St, New York, NY 10002

After the old building burnt down, a new commercial building was built. Currently empty.

283 Grand St
New York, NY 10002

7. 129 Henry Street

129 Henry St, New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

129 Henry St
New York, NY 10002

8. 109 East Broadway

109 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

109 E Broadway
New York, NY 10002

9. 247 Henry Street

247 Henry St, New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

247 Henry St
New York, NY 10002

10. 225 East Broadway

225 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

225 E Broadway
New York, NY 10002

11. 5 Essex Street

5 Essex St, New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

5 Essex St
New York, NY 10002

12. 53 Hester Street

53 Hester St, New York, NY 10002

Vacant lot.

53 Hester St
New York, NY 10002