Council Member Levine And Others Release Groundbreaking Rezoning Plan For Morningside Heights

May 7, 2021

After years of trailblazing work, a unique coalition of elected officials and community organizers are set to release an innovative new rezoning study of Morningside Heights.

After undergoing a multi-faceted review process, Harlem Council Member Mark Levine, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and the land use division at the City Council, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Community Board 9, and the Morningside Heights Community Coalition (MHCC) announced their plan to develop a block-by-block vision that could add a significant number of affordable housing in the neighborhood as well as protect countless more.

The diverse uptown community of Morningside Heights had watched for decades as it became an island of vulnerability as the communities surrounding it received rezoning approvals from the Department of City Planning (DCP) that checked over-development and promoted the creation of affordable housing.

Morningside Heights remained a highly attractive zoning environment for luxury developers, prompting neighborhood residents to express their concerns about the ongoing displacement of long-time residents and small businesses.

The community, through a grassroots organization known as the Morningside Heights Community Coalition (MHCC), focused on working to save the historic and social character of the neighborhood.

But after being rejected by DCP for the rezoning of Morningside Heights in September of 2018, MHCC sought out local elected officials’ assistance to help develop a strategy for a truly community-led rezoning model.

The plan is the culmination of those efforts, including an MHCC led effort of grassroots engagement through a “Visionary Workshop”, Town Hall meetings, reports, surveys, street tabling, petitions, guidelines, platforms, preliminary zoning plans, and interviews with neighbors to formalize the Zoning Study.

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The plan released Friday identifies a 15-block stretch (between 110th to 125th Streets) with twenty sites spanning from Riverside Park to Morningside Park that are vulnerable to luxury development without affordability requirements because of unused air rights or high vacancy rates.

“The zoning in Morningside Heights has not been changed since 1961, and it is desperately in need of an update,” said City Council Member Mark Levine. “The current zoning has led to the worst of all worlds: wildly out-of-scale mid-block towers and zero affordable housing. An extraordinary community-driven process has put forward a powerful alternative to the status quo, with a plan that would add density and affordable housing on the avenues and adjacent to transit, would limit out-scale-towers, would preserve existing rent-stabilized apartments, and would update an inconsistent commercial overlay. I am incredibly proud of the work of our community partners throughout this process and look forward to making this vision a reality as soon as possible. Let’s not miss this opportunity.”

“I’m grateful to Council Member Mark Levine and the NYC Council land-use office for collaborating on this thorough study that presents a balance between preservation and new development, protecting current residents and creating opportunities for affordable housing,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I look forward to continued engagement with residents and stakeholders to create a solid proposal.”

“This study recognizes the difficult moment that we are in as a city and seeks to address our affordability crisis head-on. And unlike other plans the city has put forth, this one is actually coming to us from the community themselves. Their goal is our goal: to increase affordable housing and preserve the units we do have,” said Speaker Corey Johnson. “I’m proud of the work the Council has done here, and I hope to see more community-driven plans going forward. Big thanks to Council Member Levine, Borough President Brewer, and the many members of the Morningside Heights community who are fighting the good fight for their homes and their neighbors’ homes.”

“Time after time we’ve seen top-down, City-Hall driven rezonings fail because they didn’t take the time to understand the area as local stakeholders do”, said Congressman Jerry Nadler. “I am excited to see a community-driven plan that can curb out-of-scale development, create affordable housing, and preserve the unique character and vibrancy of Morningside Heights move forward.”

Said Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, “This rezoning is personal for me: I have fought for affordable housing in Morningside Heights for over two decades, long before I was in elected office. We have to make sure that this neighborhood can stay the great, vibrant and diverse community it is, while stopping the out-of-control and out-of-scale luxury development that threatens our community, and this historic community-led rezoning is a critical step to finally making this happen. I want to thank my partners Morningside Heights Community Coalition, Community Board 9, and Council Member Levine, and I will do whatever I can to ensure this moves forward.”

“The ground-breaking Morningside Heights ‘Community-Led’ Rezoning Study captures the aspirations of our neighbors to maintain the quality of life they deserve. The Study promotes reasonable development with affordable housing, and greater commercial opportunities while preserving rent-stabilized units to ensure a thriving and diverse community,” said Robert Stern, Vice President of the Morningside Heights Community Coalition.

“Preserving the contextual character of the neighborhood and protecting rent-stabilized housing, while also calling for targeted up-zoning to allow for new affordable housing production is a tough balancing act. Yet, Community Board 9, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Councilmember Mark Levine, the City Council Land Use Division, and the Morningside Heights Community Coalition have produced a rezoning proposal that credibly does all three—and they are to be commended for an open and inclusive community-based planning process that engaged key stakeholders,” said Dr. Rod Jones, Executive Director of Goddard Riverside.

Photo credit: Mark Levine.

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