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Residents Voice Concerns About Development at Chinatown Town Hall

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IMG_0768 A large crowd came to a town hall meeting last night to speak out about the problems impacting Chinatown and its neighboring communities. The forum was sponsored by the Chinatown Working Group, a coalition of community organizations. The participants were greeted by protesters outside chanting, "Chinatown not for sale… Lower East Side not for sale."

Chinatown Working Group Chairman Jim Solomon said the idea is to come up with a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood encompassing housing, education, open space, cultural preservation, transportation and social services by the end of the year. Acknowledging skepticism that the organization's plans will actually be implemented, he emphasized the involvement of a broad cross-section of the community and elected officials. Solomon expressed some frustration that the protesters chose to stand outside rather than join the conversation.

It was impossible to miss the political subtext last night. City Councilman Alan Gerson, facing several challengers in September's primary election, addressed the forum, saying he's accomplished a lot for Chinatown but that "there is much more to do."  Gerson reminded the crowd that he has pressed the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to withhold funds for the Chatham Square street redesign until community concerns are heard. He called on the LMDC to release $10 million to expand affordable housing in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

Members of the group aknowledged the anger in the community resulting from the exclusion of Chinatown from the rezoning of 111 blocks of the East Village and the Lower East Side. The result has been an increase of development in Chinatown, where builders don't have to be concerned about height restrictions and other regulations. Members of the community said "unscuplulous landlords," are stepping up their aggressive tactics against tenants in rent controlled apartments.

One woman, speaking through a translator, said the landlord at 11 Essex Street forced six families out of their apartments. She said the city's housing department has not come up with  adequate alternative housing for them. One member of Community Board 3 denounced the practice as illegal and urged the passage of tougher laws to protect tenants.

Another woman complained about the impact of the New York Police Department's expanded command center downtown, saying it will overwhelm already crowded streets in the neighborhood. Jan Lee of the Civic Center Residents Coalition expressed exasperation that an issue he brought to a "transportation town hall" on the Lower East Side a month ago has still not been addressed. At that meeting, Lee demanded that the Parks Department stop driving its trucks inside Columbus Park, "endangering the lives of children." 

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Luis Sanchez, Department of Transportation Commissioner, promised to call the Parks Department about the problem. But Lee says, when he confronted the Parks Dept. Commissioner attending last night's meeting, he was not aware of the situation.

Many of the problems raised last night required immediate attention. While they may illustrate larger issues for the Working Group to address, officials said the community boards should be dealing with pressing complaints.

Throughout the meeting, Chairman Solomon urged anyone interested in the issues impacting Chinatown to become involved with the Chinatown Working Group. More information is on their web site.

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