City Council member Rosie Mendez is encouraging locals to show up next week at a City Council hearing on a proposed zoning change along a two-and-a-half block stretch of East Houston Street. Mendez, the Manhattan Borough President and Community Board 3 are all opposed the change, which is being pushed by property owner Samy Mahfar.
Mahfar is planning a 13-story residential building with ground floor commercial space at 255 East Houston St. (near Suffolk Street). He’s preparing to demolish a building that once housed a low-income daycare center, which was displaced in 2010 after construction on a neighboring lot damaged the property.
A community facility is the only use allowed under current zoning. But Mahfar says attempts to find a tenant have been unsuccessful. So he wants to map a C2-5 commercial overlay in the R8 district (the change would impact parcels he controls, plus 18 other lots on the south side of the street). This alteration would allow a restaurant to occupy the commercial space.
The community board approved a resolution in May opposing the change. It stated that Mahfar has, “a well- documented history of illegal construction and construction harassment” in other buildings throughout the Lower East Side. The board also told the City Planning Commission, “The daycare (center) was forced to be vacated due to the open violations and the applicant’s failure to address them.” Most significantly, CB3 argued that the neighborhood lacks adequate community facilities and has lost a number of daycare and nursing facilities in recent years (Rivington House, for example).
The planning commission, however, approved the application July 13 (see below). Here’s part of the city’s rationale as explained by the planning board:
There is an existing C2-5 commercial overlay on the north side of East Houston Street between First Avenue and Avenue B, and the proposed action will create consistency in the permitted commercial uses along each side of East Houston Street, which includes a wide range commercial uses from retail shopping, grocery stores, and restaurants. Together, these commercial amenities provide much needed services to Lower East Side residents. The Commission believes that the proposed C2-5 commercial overlay on the blocks and lots on the south side of East Houston Street between the east side of Norfolk Street and the centerline of the block between Clinton Street and Attorney Street is in context with the surrounding zoning and reflective of existing uses.
The matter will be taken up by the Council’s zoning and franchises committee next Tuesday morning at 9:30 (in the committee room at City Hall). In a newsletter published yesterday, Mendez’s office wrote, “Council Woman Mendez does not support zoning changes at this time and would like to encourage the Community Board and constituents to testify at the City Council’s hearing on the application.”
During an earlier public hearing, CB3’s chairperson and Mahfar were quizzed by planning commissioners about the application. Mahfar, of course, disagrees with the community board’s assertion that he was responsible for displacing the daycare. You can watch the videotape of the June 8 meeting here. [The East Houston Street discussion begins at approximately 15:45).