With less than two weeks notice and no community notification, the East Harlem community board changed the time of a key meeting that will inform the board’s ultimate vote on the city’s proposed rezoning of East Harlem.
Originally, the board’s Land Use Committee was scheduled to discuss both the proposed East Harlem rezoning and the city’s redevelopment proposal for the 111th Street ballfields at its usual time: the second Wednesday of the month, or this Wednesday June 14 at 6 p.m. Committee members’ votes on these projects are likely to inform the position taken by the full board at its final vote on June 20.
Board members received notification of the June calendar from District Manager Angel Mescain on May 25, and City Limits publicized the meeting time to the public in its East Harlem rezoning print newsletter (download a copy here).
But on Monday June 5, the board’s online calendar was updated, with the Land Use Committee’s discussion of the rezoning postponed to a specially convened meeting on Friday June 16 at 6 p.m. A notification of the new meeting was sent out that day by the committee chair to committee members only.
A discussion on the 111th Street ballfields will still take place at the regular Wednesday meeting time. Both meetings will be held at the Bonifacio Senior Center at 7 East 116th Street.
Thomas Herrera, the board’s new assistant district manager who started the job last week, said the executive committee had decided on the new meeting time so that committee members would have time to fully deliberate each issue. But other board members are concerned that the lack of full notice has excluded them and the public from more opportunities for participation.
“To change meeting times at the last minute, to a Friday night, on a neighborhood rezoning, without being bothered to send out a notice to all Board members—or the community—is deeply unsettling,” wrote board member Marie Winfield in an e-mail to the board on Sunday June 11, 2017, after she noticed the new meeting time while checking the online calendar. “With 9 new Board members and still 2 vacancies after reappointments, not following common sense procedures to ensure full community and Board participation on a neighborhood rezoning opens up the Board decisions to rightful challenges as to why these decisions are being made and whether the [community board] is deliberately discouraging public participation in these processes (which was on full display last Full Board meeting).”
At the last full board meeting, members of the group Movement for Justice in El Barrio were for a significant time prevented from entering the hearing. (The board says the problem was overcapacity and that they were eventually able to accommodate these attendees into the space.)
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On Monday at 9:20 am, when City Limits called to inquire about the altered schedule and why there had been no public notification, a board staff member said City Limits should check the meeting schedule more often. Around 20 minutes later, the board posted a notification of the meeting to its Twitter account. Another hour later, an e-mail on the new meeting times was sent to all board members.
District Manager Mescain is currently on medical leave, with chair Diane Collier serving as the substitute District Manager. In accordance with the city’s regular board re-appointment process, nine new members of the board were appointed in June.
Representatives for local councilmember and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Borough President Gale Brewer’ said they were not concerned by the turnover because the new appointees are already active members of the community, they had faith new members could get up to speed with the support of the board staff and borough president land use staff, and the board has a rezoning task force that has been thoroughly deliberating the rezoning.