‘We Don’t Want It’: Protesters Disrupt East Harlem Rezoning Plan (Video)

November 18, 2016

east-harlem-forum1A public forum held by the Department of City Planning and local elected officials to discuss the proposed rezoning of East Harlem was disrupted Thursday night by two neighborhood activist groups.

Representatives of Harlem’s City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and various city agencies were met with passionate criticism from neighborhood residents who said that the rezoning plan would displace low-income residents currently living in East Harlem says sources.

The neighborhood plan, proposed in October, calls for zoning changes in East Harlem in two parts of the neighborhood. The first part spans from East 104th Street to East 126th Street between Park and Second avenues, and the second part spans from East 126th Street to East 132nd Streets between Fifth and Second avenues.

The plan would rezone some areas of the neighborhood for high-density capacities, which could mean towers as high as 35 stories. According to a draft scope of work, the city projects the plan could add more than 4,000 residential units to East Harlem.

Here’s a video from City Limits:

The rezoning plan, courtesy of the Department of City Planning.

But neighborhood residents expressed concerns Thursday that many of the new units aren’t being built for them but instead for wealthy people looking to move into the neighborhood and gentrify it.

The scheduled program was disrupted almost as soon as it began, when members of Community Voices Heard and Picture the Homeless strode across the gymnasium floor at Taino Towers — megaphone in hand. A representative from the Department of City Planning fruitlessly attempted to speak over the demonstrators but eventually yielded the floor to Community Voices Heard.

A young woman put forth three demands from the community activism group:

  • That 30 percent of all units built in rezoned land is for residents at 30 percent of the area median income (less than $27,000 per year);
  • That $200 million be allocated to repair NYCHA buildings in East Harlem;
  • And that 40 percent of units built on public land in East Harlem be offered at 30 percent of the area median income.

After the members were done speaking, a large mass of people walked out of the gymnasium, honking horns and shouting “no rezoning.”

Speakers from Community Voices Hear and Picture the Homeless.

“I am street homeless now, and I can’t even live in the same community that I worked in,” said Cecelia Grant, a member of Picture the Homeless. “I’m retired now, and I make less than $20,000 a year. Money has to be diverted for low-income housing.”

As members of Community Voices Heard and Picture the Homeless stormed out of the meeting, members of El Barrio Unite began to gather near the stage and demand a chance to be heard. Protesters spoke with representatives of local elected officials and eventually were seated on the gymnasium floor.

After the crowd listened to a 10-minute presentation from the Department of City Planning, the microphone was turned over to Roger Hernandez Jr. of El Barrio Unite. Hernandez thanked protesters for turning out and also thanked elected officials for letting him speak before ripping into the rezoning plan.

“We totally reject the bullshit of rezoning,” Hernandez said. “And I’ll tell you why, rezoning doesn’t offer any benefit to the majority of people from this community because if you earn less than $32,000 you don’t count.”

“Your rezoning to allow increased zoning so that 30-story buildings can be built along all the major avenues of East Harlem above 104th street is great if you have money, you need an apartment and you want to live in the best neighborhood in the city. But if you’re the majority of the people that live here, earning less than $32,000, you don’t count.”

Matthew Washington, deputy borough president of Manhattan, speaking with protesters.
After demonstrators were given their chance to speak, the forum broke out into round table discussions, where city representatives attempted to answer questions and ease doubts about the plan.

The Department of City Planning will hold a public scoping meeting to discuss the plan in December and is expected to start the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure in the first quarter of 2017. Both processes will allow community members opportunities to learn more about the rezoning proposal and express concerns.

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