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Local Leaders Meet With Department of City Planning Regarding Chinatown Rezoning

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Could there be a rezoning in Chinatown and the surrounding neighborhoods in the months to come? Members of Community Board 3 and the Chinatown Working Group (CWG), a grass roots planning organization, met yesterday with city officials for a preliminary discussion about the possibilities.

As previously reported, the City Planning Commission in February rejected a sweeping zoning proposal from the CWG. In response, CB3 sent a letter to Carl Weisbrod, director of city planning, seeking a dialogue about a more targeted rezoning. The agency was open to at least talking. The initial meeting included Li, CB3 Land Use Committee Chair MyPhuong Chung, District Manager Susan Stetzer and CWG Co-Chairs Wilson Soo and Antony Wong.

In the original plan, zoning would be altered in large sections of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, including the waterfront all the way up to 14th Street. The goals were to protect and create more affordable housing, preserve historically-significant sections of Chinatown, bolster economic development and preserve neighborhood character. At a community board meeting last night on another topic, Li offered a few details about the conversation with City Planning’s Manhattan team.

As a starting point, CB3 has suggested beginning with three of the Chinatown Working Group’s sub-districts (A,B and D – see map). Planning Department officials made it clear that any successful proposal would need to advance the mayor’s signature initiative, building new affordable housing. The agency is preoccupied with a controversial citywide scheme in support of that initiative known as “Zoning for Quality & Affordability.” They also emphasized that any rezoning in Community District 3 must be viewed through a “focused lens,” meaning in a confined geographical area.

At the moment, CB3 is also preparing to ask City Planning to consider creating a Special Zoning District somewhere on the Lower East Side to curb the proliferation of chain stores and to support independent businesses. Some thought is being given within the community board to the relationship between the two rezoning requests and how to broach both issues with the city simultaneously.

Meanwhile, City Planning intends to meet with representatives of at least two other member organizations of the Chinatown Working Group. Some members are strongly opposed to advancing only portions of the master plan and, frankly, do not trust Community Board 3 to handle implementation of the sweeping proposal.

The CWG is an organization divided. Several groups have resigned from the coalition in recent months. Wilson Soo actually stepped down as co-chair at the end of June. The organization he works for, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, has quit the CWG.


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