On November 21, 2017, the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and the Committee on Land Use approved modifications to the plan and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Bill Perkins reached an agreement with the Administration on a set of neighborhood investments.
The comprehensive plan reflects years of community-based planning aimed at addressing pressing neighborhood challenges, including the preservation and creation of affordable housing, spurring economic development, investment in open space, and preserving the vibrant cultural heritage of El Barrio/East Harlem, all while substantially reducing the height and density originally proposed by the Department of City Planning (DCP) earlier this year.
The New York City Council previously held a public hearing on DCP’s rezoning proposal on October 11, 2017 and held a community forum in East Harlem on November 2, 2017. The modified application will be voted on by the full City Council on November 30, 2017.
East Harlem Neighborhood Planning Process
When Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed to rezone areas throughout the City, including East Harlem, to create new opportunities for more affordable housing, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito along with Manhattan Community Board 11, Community Voices Heard, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, convened a Steering Committee of local stakeholders to engage residents in an unprecedented community-based planning process. The Steering Committee hosted a series of community visioning workshops beginning in 2015 where residents shared their concerns and ideas on a broad range of topics, including housing, economic development, arts and culture, health, education and transportation.
To ensure broad participation was possible, Spanish-language interpretation, food, and childcare were provided, while reports and updates were regularly posted to www.eastharlemplan.nyc for residents to stay informed on the process and for transparency. Through this extensive and inclusive process, participants identified priorities and discussed trade-offs. Their feedback was then synthesized by workshop facilitators (Hester Street Collaborative and WXY Studios), reviewed by City Agencies, and formed the foundation for the recommendations the Steering Committee included in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan (EHNP) and Brochure
The EHNP considered anticipated future growth, and utilized a broad community development framework that went beyond plans for the built environment, to address the development of human capital and enhancements to quality of life. The EHNP included a combination of short- and long-term programs, capital projects, and policies that preserve the cultural diversity of East Harlem and aimed to provide resources to long-term residents so they can stay in their homes. The EHNP also included a balanced rezoning proposal, applying a very simple principle – advance a modest upzoning to trigger the City’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, or MIH, thus requiring the development of affordable housing on all privately owned sites moving forward, while at the same time preserving the character of the community.
As the City responded to the goals of the EHNP and advanced their rezoning proposal through the Land Use Review Process (see below), the Steering Committee continued to meet until the final Council vote to advocate for the adoption of the EHNP priorities, and to align the City’s rezoning proposal with the Neighborhood Plan’s zoning recommendations.
The City’s Land Use Review Process
Certain changes in land use require a public review process called the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The ULURP process provides an opportunity for the public to consider the impact that land use changes, such as a rezoning, may have on the surrounding neighborhood and provide feedback. It also sets a mandated timeline for the local Community Board, Borough President, City Planning Commission and City Council to review, host hearings and vote on the proposed land use change.
The Department of City Planning Proposal
The Department of City Planning (DCP) released its proposal to rezone East Harlem on April 24, 2017. Many of the zoning changes in DCP’s proposal mirrored the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan’s recommendations, with some key differences.
DCP’s land use application proposed zoning changes that would allow greater density on Park Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Third Avenue, Second Avenue, and East 116th Street where the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program would apply, requiring private property owners to provide income restricted housing for a portion of the units in any new development. Establishment of the new East Harlem Corridors (EHC) Special District would impose special use, bulk, ground-floor design and parking regulations throughout much of the rezoning area. The proposal also included some changes to a portion of the 125th Street Special District, the Special Transit Land Use (TA) District and the Milbank-Frawley Circle-East and Harlem-East Harlem Urban Renewal Plans (URPs) to make the URPs compatible with the zoning actions.
A separate but related land use application would change the current zoning to allow development of the mostly City-owned block 1617, located between Madison and Park Avenues at East 111th Street to facilitate a proposed HPD-sponsored mixed-use affordable housing development, Sendero Verde. Several land use actions are necessary to facilitate this development project: a rezoning of the block to allow greater density; application of the MIH program to the site; disposition of city-owned land; an amendment to the Milbank Frawley Circle East Urban Renewal Plan; and a special permit for a large scale general development (LSGD) to allow for modifications to height and setback requirements and/or accessory off-street parking requirements.
Land Use Actions Reviewed
- Establish the EHC Special District along major corridors within the rezoning area including Park Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Third Avenue, Second Avenue, and East 116th Street corridors to establish special use, bulk, ground-floor design and parking regulations.
- Amend the Zoning Resolution to apply the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program to portions of the proposed rezoning area, including areas where zoning changes would promote new housing.
- Create a new special permit related to the development, conversion, or enlargement of hotels within the proposed EHC Special District.
- Modify existing provisions of the Special 125th Special District applicable to the portion of the special district located at the intersection of East 125th Street and Park Avenue to implement new special use, bulk, ground-floor design, and parking regulations.
- Modify the boundaries of the TA District to reflect the current plans of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for prospective Second Avenue Subway locations accommodate ancillary support facilities for the future phase of the Second Avenue Subway, and introduce bulk modifications to facilitate the inclusion of necessary transportation-related facilities in new developments within Special District boundaries.
- Remove the supplementary setback control on Sites along Park Avenue between East 110th Street and East 123rd Street
- Change the designated land use of Site 9 from ‘residential/public and semi-public’ to ‘residential’
- Change the designated land use of Site 25A from ‘residential, residential/commercial, and commercial/semi-public’ to ‘residential’
- Determination of consistency with the Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP). Portions of the rezoning area are within the Coastal Zone and will require review by the CPC, in its capacity as the City Coastal Commission (CCC), to determine if they are consistent with the relevant WRP policies
Visit DCP’s East Harlem page for the full proposed zoning text amendments and map.
Manhattan Community Board 11 Recommendation: July 2017
Manhattan Community Board 11 (CB11) was a Project Partner in the EHNP process. CB11 voted to disapprove DCP’s proposed rezoning application with conditions and asked that the proposal be significantly modified to adhere to many of the recommendations included in the EHNP.
Manhattan Borough President Recommendation: August 2017
The Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer was also Project Partner in the EHNP. The Borough President voted to disapprove DCP’s proposed rezoning application, suggesting that it more closely adhere to the recommendations in the EHNP. In the Manhattan Borough President’s recommendation, key differences between the proposed rezoning application and EHNP were detailed.
City Planning Commission Recommendation: October 2017
In response to concerns raised by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the EHNP Steering Committee, the City Planning Commission modified the zoning proposal to incorporate height limits on Second, Third and Parks Avenues, where height limits previously were not included. CPC approved the proposed zoning text with the height limit modifications. Details of the CPC recommendations can be found here:
Role of the City Council
Through its role in the ULURP process, the City Council has the ability to approve, modify, or disapprove DCP’s rezoning proposal. However, any modifications made by the City Council must be “within scope”—which means that any proposed changes had to be studied in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).
The City Council held a public hearing at City Hall on this proposal on October 11, 2017 and a community forum on November 2, 2017 in East Harlem. Speaker Mark-Viverito hosted a series of meetings with community groups, as well as the Steering Committee to solicit input during the Council’s review of the DCP proposal. The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and Committee on Land Use approved the rezoning application, as well as the Sendero Verde project, with modifications on November 21, 2017.
- EHNP – 10.0 FAR mixed-use districts, allowing for higher density around 125th Street Metro North Station
- Department of City Planning – 12.0 FAR mixed-use districts, with less density on upper and lower parts of Park Avenue, and no height limits
- Council Modifications
- North of 118th Street – decreased 12.0 FAR density to 10.0 FAR, and lowered height limit to 275 feet (with the exception of 125th Street transit node and City-owned sites)
- South of 118th Street – decreased density to 5.6 and 7.2 FAR, and lowered height limit to 115 and 145 feet (with the exception of East 116th Street intersection) to better integrate into the existing community context, as well as preserve existing rent stabilized housing
- EHNP – 8.5 FAR residential districts, allowing for higher density between East 124th Street and East 122nd Street
- Department of City Planning – 12.0 FAR mixed-use and residential districts
- Council Modifications
- East 124th Street to East 122nd Street – decreased density to 10.0 FAR, and lowered height limit to 235 feet
- South of East 122nd Street – decreased density to 9.0 FAR, and lowered height limit to 215 feet
- EHNP – 8.5 FAR residential districts
- Department of City Planning – 8.5 FAR residential districts
- Council Modifications – maintained 8.5 FAR density, lowered height limit to 175 feet
In addition to the modifications listed above, DCP’s originally proposed density and height limits for Lexington Avenue, East 116th Street, Madison Avenue, and midblocks were aligned with the EHNP. DCP also included a non-residential use requirement on Park Avenue which conformed to the EHNP vision to incentivize employment-generating uses on Park Avenue.
The Council identified the location of vulnerable existing rent stabilized housing, and carefully evaluated the potential added development pressure created by the proposed rezoning, in an effort to minimize the risk of displacement. The Council’s modified rezoning will not significantly add more market rate housing production than permissible through current zoning; in areas where significantly more housing was being proposed through the rezoning than currently allowed, the Council modifications included a more significant reduction in residential density (Park Avenue, below East 118th Street, where current zoning only allows 3.44 FAR for residential uses).
Implementation and Commitment Tracker
In addition to approving a modified rezoning proposal, Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Member Perkins secured additional commitments that were advocated for by the EHNP Steering Committee. Throughout the ULURP process, the Steering Committee continued to meet to advocate for the Neighborhood Plan’s recommendations and rezoning proposal. On several occasions, the Steering Committee met with City Agencies to refine recommendations, and identified key priorities to advance in negotiations with the Administration. Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Member Perkins supported the Steering Committee’s priorities, and were able to secure the zoning modifications, capital investment, and programs as prioritized in the EHNP. The commitments made through the East Harlem rezoning will be tracked and annual reports will be issued on their progress, for a full list of the Administration’s commitments click here. Below, the commitments are listed by category and are connected to the goals of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan.
The need for affordable housing in East Harlem was central to discussions throughout the neighborhood planning process. In order to keep East Harlem affordable for current and future residents, the existing affordable housing stock must be preserved, tenants must be protected and new affordable housing must be created. In recent years, East Harlem lost approximately 360 affordable units a year due to expiring subsidy programs according to the Regional Plan Association report, Preserving Affordable Housing in East Harlem. Market rate housing is currently being developed throughout the neighborhood without any requirement to build affordable units. In response to these conditions, the EHNP created a set of guidelines for new development and preservation of affordable housing.
Affordable Housing Development
The development of new affordable housing in East Harlem will include Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) throughout the rezoned area and affordable housing on City-owned sites with deeper affordability than MIH mandates on privately-owned sites. Under the current zoning, no affordable units are mandated. This rezoning mandates that a portion of the units in new developments in the rezoned area be affordable at the following levels: either Option 1 – 25% of housing must be affordable at an average of 60% of Area Median Income (AMI), with 10% of the total units set aside for 40% AMI or Option 3 (the Deep Affordability Option) – 20% of units at 40% AMI. Learn more about Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.
The Sendero Verde development, approved at the same time as the rezoning, includes 681 units of income-restricted housing including: a senior housing building, community gardens, and community serving uses including a new school, health center and recreational facility.
In response to the affordability goals of the EHNP, recent affordable housing developments have included a deeper affordability band at 30% of AMI. Since the creation of the EHNP, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has approved projects containing about 475 units of housing available to households at or below 30% of AMI (including OurSpace units). The City anticipates developing affordable housing on additional public sites, including the NYPD 25th Precinct’s parking lot, the Human Resources Administration’s East Harlem Multi-Service Center and the Department of Sanitations 123rd Street parking lot, all of which will include affordable units at 30% AMI.
- Prioritize the development of over 2,600 affordable homes on City-owned land
- Develop new affordable housing on City-owned sites identified through the neighborhood planning process
- Support mission-driven groups interested in developing affordable housing on underutilized sites
- Explore opportunities to finance the development of affordable artist housing
Affordable Housing Preservation
The EHNP recommendations on affordable housing preservation focus both on preserving the physical housing stock and protecting the tenants who live there. This will be achieved through coordinating preservation efforts amongst community based organizations including community organizers, non-profit housing organizations, legal services providers and government agencies to create long and short-term strategies to preserve rent regulated housing and protect the existing tenants. Another recommendation in the EHNP was to create a Community Land Trust (CLT) in East Harlem, which will own the land under the buildings on the CLT. The City will dispose of at least three city-owned buildings to the East Harlem/El Barrio CLT who will rehabilitate these buildings using government subsidy and other funding sources to create permanently affordable housing that maximizes deep affordability.
Tenants will also continue to have access to free anti-harassment legal services. Manhattan Community Board 11 will become one of the areas for the Certificate of No Harassment program whose goal is to proactively prevent the illegal displacement of tenants by creating strong disincentives for tenant harassment.
Crucial to preserving affordable housing in East Harlem is investing in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings to preserve East Harlem’s public housing stock by funding necessary repairs that ensure our lowest income households have a safe and stable place to live in the community for the long term.
- Create a proactive and coordinated system that funds local groups to preserve affordable housing and protect tenants called the Partners in Preservation program
- Fund and support the East Harlem/El Barrio Community Land Trust
- A significant capital investment in repairing NYCHA public housing in East Harlem by modernizing ventilation systems, boiler replacement, and other work to improve indoor air quality
- Continue to provide free legal representation to East Harlem tenants facing harassment
- Establish a “Certificate of No Harassment” (CONH) pilot program to deter tenant harassment in CB11
- Pilot a Landlord Ambassadors Program to provide technical assistance to East Harlem property owners applying for HPD financing to preserve affordable housing
The EHNP included several recommendations aimed at ensuring local residents and small businesses benefit from future economic opportunities created in East Harlem. Training programs which also connect East Harlem residents to local jobs was a priority of the EHNP. In addition, the Neighborhood Plan advocated for resources to support and grow local small business, particularly by investing in the redevelopment of the historic La Marqueta, and organizing merchants associations.
The commitments below respond to the economic development goals of the EHNP. Of particular note, in anticipation of the additional resource secured for local hiring through training and partnerships with local employers, the Mt. Sinai Health System has committed to expanding their existing partnership with the East Harlem Talent Network, to source candidates for employment from the local community, aligning the Talent Network’s training programs with their hiring needs. The training and referrals will target good paying occupations with relatively low barriers to entry, such as Medical Assistants, Lab Coordinators, Patient Navigators, and Care Coordinators.
- Redevelop the historic La Marqueta
- Open a new Satellite Workforce 1 Center in East Harlem
- Promote local hiring through training and partnerships with local employers
- Protect and enhance the viability of local small businesses (Neighborhood 360 Grant)
Over the neighborhood’s long history, East Harlem has made important contributions to New York City’s diverse fabric of music, art, and dance. The streetscapes are rich with architecturally and culturally significant structures that reflect the pride residents have for their neighborhood. Despite these advantages, cultural assets in East Harlem are facing incredible pressure from the changing dynamics of the neighborhood, lack of affordable space, a history of funding inequity, and rising operational costs. In East Harlem, preserving the arts and culture sector of the community is essential to preserving the neighborhood character.
Recommendations from the EHNP were developed through several meetings with community stakeholders focused on preserving the unique cultural identity of East Harlem/El Barrio – including organizations, cultural centers, and local artists. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs’ new initiative, Building Community Capacity (BCC), takes a collaborative and comprehensive approach to building cultural capacity in targeted low-income neighborhoods. BCC was highlighted during conversations with DCLA through the EHNP process and the initiative will provide the opportunity to create an arts advocacy coalition focused on the specific cultural needs of the East Harlem community. In addition to building the capacity of local arts organizations, the EHNP identified several significant sites and buildings unique to the cultural identity and history of East Harlem. The commitments below respond to the needs that were identified and refined through the EHNP process.
- Fund Dept of Cultural Affair’s Building Community Capacity in East Harlem. This program will support the community in creating a strategy to implement the arts and culture objectives identified in the EHNP.
- The Landmarks Preservation Commission has calendared the three properties for future consideration as historic and culturally significant buildings in East Harlem: PS 109, Benjamin Franklin HS, Richard Webber Harlem Packing House, and will consider calendaring the First Spanish United Methodist Church (163 E. 111th Street)
Education, Afterschool, Early Childhood Development
Through the EHNP community engagement process, community stakeholders articulated the importance of not only expanding youth services and school seats to accommodate population growth enabled by the rezoning, they also emphasized the importance of improving our existing schools and enhancing youth programs serving our young people today. The EHNP called for investments in many of the existing daycare, Pre-K and afterschool facilities in publicly owned buildings, in addition to offering new programming for underserved youth (after-hours programming for teens, and new programs for 3-year-olds and younger).
East Harlem schools must also include a more holistic approach to learning, which will require social and emotional services within school buildings, utilizing partnerships with community-based organizations. In addition, creating more diverse pathways to careers and colleges is important to helping students who may not thrive in more traditional educational settings, and may instead benefit from career training before they leave high school. The Department of Education will work to expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) programming in East Harlem schools to provide clear pathways to postsecondary education and training, and readiness for entry-level, career-track work upon high school graduation.
- Create new Career and Technical Education programs in East Harlem schools
- Create new Community Schools in East Harlem: PS 83, PS 108, Esperanza Prep Academy
- Install air conditioners in all public schools in East Harlem
- Roll-out DOE 3-K program in East Harlem
- Increase afterschool funding for high school students
- Improve access to early care and education
- Capital investment in childcare facilities on NYCHA campuses: renovate kitchens, bathrooms and a playground
Open Space and Environment
East Harlem has about 0.834 acres of open space per 1,000 residents, well below the city’s guideline of 2.5 acres per 1,000 residents and the city average of 1.5 acres per 1,000 residents. As populations increase in East Harlem, this ratio will only get worse. The largest open space assets in the community are either difficult to access, located at the edges of the neighborhood, or in desperate need of significant improvements: Central Park, Randall’s Island, the East River Esplanade, and the open space surrounding NYCHA developments. The other neighborhood parks in the district, Thomas Jefferson Park, Marcus Garvey Park, and the Harlem River Park need safety, maintenance, and programming improvements. Residents made it very clear through the EHNP process – East Harlem needs more park space in addition to significant improvements to existing parks.
The majority of Community District 11 is highly susceptible to flooding and storm surge, which was shown in recent storms that have hit East Harlem. Additionally, the neighborhood is in the combined-sewer area, so improvements to the public realm and new development should incorporate storm water management strategies in order to keep adjacent waterways clean.
The section of the East River Esplanade between East 96th Street to East 132nd Street is an area of opportunity to achieve several goals in the EHNP related to resiliency and open space. The deterioration of the existing section of the esplanade (East 96th Street to East 125th Street) is extensive and getting worse and more expensive with each passing year. While the City Council, Borough President, and the Administration have recently committed capital investments to repair parts of the Esplanade, much of its stretch has yet to be repaired. Over the past few years, several efforts on behalf of the Administration have been made to begin planning for an expanded and more resilient East River Esplanade, which is promising for its long-term future.
East Harlem is a well-connected neighborhood, which means reliance on public transportation is helpful for reducing carbon emissions. The connectedness of the neighborhood is going to increase further as planned developments come online in the next few years.
The commitments below focus on the long-term future of the East River Esplanade, improvements to existing playgrounds and parks to accommodate a wider range of users, green infrastructure investments, and transportation and pedestrian safety improvements.
- Build new waterfront park between 125th – 132nd Streets
- Repair existing portions of the East River Esplanade between 96th-125th Streets
- Build a comfort station in Harlem River Park
- Integrate intergenerational design in playgrounds to accommodate seniors in local parks (James Weldon Johnson Playground, Playground 103, Abraham Lincoln Playground)
- Locate additional benches in areas that provide respite for seniors
- Improve way-finding to Randall’s Island
- Working with community stakeholders, plan for the development of a consolidated DSNY sanitation garage for M10 and M11
- Improve safety for visually-impaired pedestrians (Accessible Pedestrian Signals)
- Fund a Safe Routes to School study and implement new routes in East Harlem
- Build a new SBS bus station on 125th Street and Lexington Avenue
- Coordinate with Agencies to incorporate green infrastructure into city projects
- Dept of Environmental Protection will seek opportunities in the district to connect with existing homeowners and new developers to expand the Green Infrastructure Grant Program to private properties throughout CD11
Health and Safety
East Harlem has some of the poorest air quality in the city, resulting in an environment that contributes to local health problems, especially asthma. These issues are exacerbated by vehicular congestion along major avenues and particularly along 125th Street. Reducing congestion through street and public realm improvements would help improve public health and safety of residents.
East Harlem has some of the highest mental health related hospitalization rates in the city – including psychiatric, drug-related, and alcohol-related hospitalizations (ranking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, respectively). A comprehensive and realistic approach to addressing mental health and the stigmas that surround it is necessary today and long into the future.
The majority of Community District 11 is highly susceptible to flooding and storm surge, with only nine blocks located outside of an evacuation zone. This was evident when the storm surge from Superstorm Sandy reached East Harlem, which could have been even more damaging had the tides been different. In order to prepare residents for the next emergency, a strategy must be in place to ensure the most vulnerable populations are able to acquire the resources they need.
Through conversations during the EHNP process and evidence presented by New York Academy of Medicine’s Health Impact Assessment, which was conducted in tandem with the EHNP, several health conditions were prioritized. Infant mortality, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, mental health, and violence are all factors that currently have adverse impacts on the community and could be exacerbated by the threat of residential displacement and environmental changes related to open space, transportation, and climate change. These reasons heighten the importance of ensuring that appropriate measures are in place for this community as the population increases.
The commitments below were identified through the EHNP process and relate to improved safety measures for pedestrians, increased mental health services, and improved district-wide emergency preparedness, to create a more resilient East Harlem.
- Increase and improve access to mental health services: fund targeted local marketing for NYC Well program, expand mental health first aid training with a youth focus, conduct outreach and identify new Opioid Overdose Prevention Program (OOPP) providers in East Harlem
- Create Department of Health and Mental Hygiene East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center
- Provide funding to the East Harlem COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disasters)
- Explore locations for a new Evacuation Center for East Harlem residents (IS 88 at 215 West 114th Street)