Growth Limits Urged for Chinatown – Wall Street Journal


by Joseph De Avila and Shelly Banjo

A coalition of community groups and co-op boards will release a plan Tuesday seeking to curb high-rise development in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

The groups say that development south of Houston Street has pushed out long-time residents and small businesses. Their plan to preserve the area’s local economy and heritage will compete with a rival proposal from real-estate groups that want to see development restraints loosened.

“This is the last immigrant neighborhood and last affordable area south of Central Park,” said Brian Paul, a research and policy fellow at Hunter College’s Center for Community Planning and Development who assisted with the design of the plan. “Lower middle-income workers are important to the city as a whole.”

The rezoning plan by the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side calls for a limitation on new hotels and luxury housing development construction.

It would also require newly constructed buildings in the area to resemble the five- and six-story structures that are currently found in those neighborhoods.

The coalition hopes that its proposal will be adopted by the 52-member Chinatown Working Group, which includes nonprofits, community boards, developers and property owners that are working to submit a comprehensive Chinatown development plan to the city early next year.

But other groups have different visions for Chinatown. A group of real-estate developers earlier this year submitted an alternative plan to that being prepared by the Chinatown Working Group.

That plan calls for transforming Canal Street into a high-density area with tall office and apartment buildings.

“Building up the area to create a critical mass of development is the only way to revitalize the physical fabric of the area and the job base, which is what Chinatown critically needs,” says Douglas Woodward, a planning consultant who represents the developers in the community.

He says his group is working to target specific blocks for development in order to avoid a blanket moratorium on development that Mr. Woodward says could hamper the area’s economic growth.

The rezoning of Chinatown and the Lower East Side are several years away. Any rezoning would first need to pass the city’s land-use review process and is subject to City Council approval.

Members of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side became concerned with area’s zoning restrictions after the East Village was rezoned to ban high-rise construction in 2008, said Wah Lee, a community organizer with the group. After that happened, developers turned their attention to neighborhoods south of Houston Street, she said.

As a result, many residents in Chinatown and the Lower East Side have been displaced by new development projects, according to Ms. Lee. The coalition’s plan would seek to end displacing residents and would encourage the protection of affordable housing for low-income residents, she said.

“The city should be accountable to the community that works and lives here,” Ms. Lee said.

(NB- AALDEF is a member of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side.)