Followup: Whatever Happened to Rezoning the Bowery?

The demolition of 185 Bowery. Photo by LES resident Michele Campo.

The other day I chatted with David Mulkins of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors about his organization’s ongoing campaign to rezone the east side of the Bowery. In December, he and a few other community activists met with Amanda Burden, who’s in charge of New York’s City’s Department of Planning. Their proposal: implement height restrictions on the east side of the Bowery, similar to the 85 foot height limit already in existence on the west side of the block.

Mulkins said Burden was not all that encouraging about the idea.  City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who talked with Burden a couple of weeks ago, told me this week she came away with a similar impression. The upshot is this: while the city says it’s committed to preserving the character of individual neighborhoods, there’s also a determination to encourage new development. Burden suggested there’s a willingness to consider height restrictions on side streets, but not on the city’s wide thoroughfares. So, Chin said, Burden is not inclined to support new restrictions on the Bowery.

Mulkins believes this point of view ignores the fact that inconsistent zoning rules have created a street that’s seriously out of whack (low-scale buildings on one side, hulking highrises on the other). But more important to him is what’s being lost on the Bowery. There’s great concern about the destruction of historically significant buildings on “one of the great American streets.” The most recent example, he says, the demolition of 185 Bowery (pictured above).

The west side of the Bowery is part of the Special Little Italy District and the Noho Historic District. During a town hall meeting last year, some residents suggested a new historic district for the east side of the block might very well be the best way to protect buildings from the wrecking ball.