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Apologies for the late notice on this one, but this meeting was just brought to our attention this morning — Tonight the Department of City Planning will present its preliminary plans for the West Harlem Special District.

Proposed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in 2007, the special district is based in part on Manhattan Community Board 9’s 197-a plan (which was our Community-Based Plan of the Month in April).

According to Stringer, the Special District will include:

  • Contextual Zoning, with density and height limits, to preserve the physical character of the neighborhoods and quell displacement pressures.
  • Community Facility reforms, which would stop grossly out-of-scale developments and discourage dorms and university uses in residential areas.
  • Inclusionary Housing in certain areas, to channel new development toward the creation of housing that is affordable to West Harlem residents.
  • Density bonuses for “business incubators,” to provide incentives for developers to provide affordably priced retail or commercial space to local businesses.
  • Anti-Harassment Provisions and Demolition Restrictions, which would penalize property owners who harass their tenants, and discourage the demolition of occupied sound housing.
  • Special Off-street Parking Regulations, to ensure that parking in the area serves the needs of residents and encourages transit-based development instead of causing traffic congestion and pollution.

Tonight’s meeting is hosted by Manhattan CB9 and will take place at 6:30 pm at Broadway Housing, 583 Riverside Dr.@ 135th Street.

If you are interested in community advocacy on this issue, contact the West Harlem Community Preservation Organization (CPO) at


Williamsburg Blogger Brooklyn 11211 wishes North Brooklyn a “Happy Rezoning Day” today, on the fourth anniversary of the passage of a massive rezoning of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfronts.  The Department of City Planning supposedly based this rezoning on the neighborhoods’ 197-plans; however, the community ended up with much more development than it bargained for.  11211 writes,

“Here in North Brooklyn, the last four years have brought construction – a hell of a lot of construction. In Community Board 1, over 1,000 major construction projects have been filed with DOB since May, 2005. Thousands of new housing units are at some point in the pipeline – planned, filed, under construction or occupied. (And despite a global economic meltdown or two, construction in North Brooklyn has not noticeably abated.)
In exchange for all of this new construction, the community was promised a lot. And while the new construction continues full bore, most of the promised benefits of the rezoning have yet to be realized.”

The post goes on to analyze the results of the rezoning in regards to affordable housing, open space, manufacturing retention, and follow-up rezonings in the upland areas.  Read the details here.

The post continues, “Things are arguably worse on the open space front. A lot of new open space was proposed in the rezoning and in the points of agreement negotiated between the City Council and the Bloomberg administration, and almost nothing has been built.”

To address this, North Brooklyn advocacy organizations (and Community-Based Planning Task Force members) Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) and the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning (GWAPP) are sponsoring Where’s My Park? Day on Saturday (it’s “It’s My Park! Day in the rest of the city). NAG says, “Bring your kids and your grandmas to East River Park (N 8th and Kent) at 12:30 to make some pro-park crafts and picket signs, and then join us at 2:30 as we march down past several of the promised parks’ locked gates. The day will end with a block party full of music, games, refreshments, and community… in a parking lot.”

This monthly feature profiles a plan included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community- Based Plans in New York City, an interactive, online tool created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force.

In New York City, the most common stereotype about community-based planning is that communities don’t want change.  Detractors often say that, if communities were to make substantial planning decisions, the City would never see growth and development.  However, Manhattan Community Board 9 in Harlem proved this stereotype untrue with Sharing Diversity Through Community Action, their 197-a plan, adopted by the City in 2007.  With Earth Day this month, we highlight this plan, which is heavily focused on growth, development, and sustainability.

Since 1989, the New York City Charter has included a provision allowing community boards, organizations, and/or local elected officials to create comprehensive plans for the future of their districts, known as 197-a plans.  Manhattan Community Board 9, which serves the neighborhoods of Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, Hamilton Heights, and Sugar Hill, began the process in 1991.  After initial submission to and rejection by the City Planning Commission, they began revisions with help from the Pratt Center for Community Development.

Community board members and representatives from the Harlem Community Development Corporation and Pratt Center met regularly for over 20 months and held monthly public meetings to get community input on the plan’s recommendations. They also held three community-wide forums in 2004.  Based on these meetings, they created a Community Feedback Table to address each issue and set out actions. This insured that community concerns guided the plan from the beginning.

Out of this process, CB9 established the following goals:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Community-Based Plan of the Month highlights plans included in Planning for All New Yorkers: An Atlas of Community-Based Plans in New York City, an interactive map created by the Municipal Art Society and the Community-Based Planning Task Force.  As the recent economic slowdown gives us the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate New York City’s planning processes, community-based plans can provide a framework for a future that works for all New Yorkers.  The plans featured in this column will provide examples of how inclusive planning processes work on the ground, and ideally will help inspire future community planning efforts.

Sunset Park 197-a Plan

Sunset Park encompasses a large stretch of Brooklyn’s East River waterfront, bordered by the Prospect Expressway to the north, Bay Ridge to the south, and the Gowanus Expressway to the east.  The area has served as a maritime hub for over 100 years.  The Bush Terminal was established there in 1895, and eventually grew to over 200 acres.  During World War II, the Brooklyn Army Terminal handled nearly 80% of the country’s supplies and troops, and employed nearly 10,000 civilians.  After the war, however, as the region’s shipping hub shifted from the ports of New York to those of New Jersey, many jobs disappeared and the neighborhood fell into disinvestment.

In recent years, the Sunset Park waterfront has experienced a resurgence of industry, including warehousing and light manufacturing.  It is now one of NYC’s six designated Significant Maritime Industrial Areas (SMIAs).  Waves of immigration have also contributed to making Sunset Park the dynamic neighborhood it is today.  Beginning with Puerto Ricans in the 1970s and followed more recently by Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Columbians, and Mexicans, immigration has transformed Sunset Park into a center of Latino culture in Brooklyn. The neighborhood is also home to Brooklyn’s Chinatown, which is the third-largest Chinese community in NYC.

Over the next 10-to-20 years, Sunset Park faces the potential for many changes.  It is targeted for City and State projects such as a container port, a cross-harbor rail freight tunnel, a waterfront park, and possible reconstruction or tunneling of the Gowanus Expressway.  In addition, the neighborhood faces increasing pressure from rising housing costs caused by the gentrification of surrounding areas, particularly to the north.

In response to these and other concerns, in 1996, Brooklyn Community Board 7 began work on a 197-a plan.  Since 1989, the New York City Charter has included a provision allowing community boards, organizations, and/or local elected officials to create these comprehensive plans for the future of their districts.  The process began in Sunset Park with a detailed study of existing conditions created by the Metro Chapter of the American Planning Association.  In 1997, Community Board 7 and the Municipal Art Society Planning Center sponsored a workshop to generate a community vision for the waterfront and establish preliminary goals.

In the coming years, the board sponsored a number of community workshops, forums, and open meetings, involving a broad spectrum of local residents, stakeholders, and, community-based organizations, including UPROSE, Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation, Hispanic Young People’s Alternatives, the Center for Family Life, the Chinese-American Planning Council, and others.  The City Planning Commission recently declared that the plan meets threshold review, and is now assessing its potential environmental impacts.  The plan could enter the public review process as soon as the spring, and if passed, will become the City’s 11th adopted 197-a plan.

The plan’s recommendations are broad and detailed.  They cover areas from infrastructure, manufacturing, and transportation to the environment, open space and waterfront access, to housing, quality of life, and job creation.  The plan’s main goals are as follows:

  • To promote industrial redevelopment and job creation in Sunset Park while retaining existing industrial jobs.
  • To maximize waterfront access and open space opportunities in combination with industrial and waterfront redevelopment.
  • To preserve existing industrial, commercial and residential uses and fabric in the area east of 1st Avenue.
  • To encourage development that places a minimal environmental burden on adjacent residential communities.

For more details, please visit the Atlas of Community-Based Plans, where you can download a detailed summary.

Have you recently been involved in a community-based planning initiative in your neighborhood?  If so, we want to hear about it.

Last year, the Municipal Art Society Planning Center and the Community-Based Planning Task Force launched Planning for All New Yorkers: an Atlas of Community-Based Plans in New York City. The Atlas is an interactive, online, map-based tool that allows users to search plans by type and download summaries in PDF form.  It is the only resource in NYC that brings together community planning initiatives of all types, including 197-a comprehensive plans, waterfront access plans, economic development plans, transportation plans, and more.

The 87 plans currently in the Atlas represent countless hours of work by grassroots organizations, community boards, and New Yorkers from all five boroughs since 1989.  As community planning in NYC continues, the Atlas is always growing.  If you know about a planning process that has taken place in your neighborhood and you don’t see it included in the Atlas, please let us know!

In yesterday’s Gotham Gazette, writer Courtney Gross examines in detail the ongoing conflict between the Bloomberg administration’s rampant rezoning of the city and community advocates’ call for more public participation in the planning process. From the Jamaica Plan to Williamsburg to Willets Point, she points out the flaws in the process that allow plans to proceed despite community opposition. She also tackles the issue of the lack of teeth given to 197-a planning under the current system.

Eve Baron of the Municipal Art Society Planning Center and our Task Force says, “When we’re talking about public participation, sitting down and being willing to talk before rezoning happens is one thing,” said Baron. “There is another thing that is working with the community beforehand to create proactive plans.”

Check it out, as its a great primer explaining the need for the Task Force’s draft legislation, mentioned in the article and coming soon to this blog.

Today, Brownstoner covers our efforts toward planning reform in NYC. The article is a good summary of the current problem with 197-a planning – as Municipal Art Society Planning Center Director Eve Baron points out, “While it’s potentially a great tool, it’s ultimately only an advisory document.”

This lack of “teeth” for 197-a planning allows situations to arise such as that of Manhattanville, described in the article by Council Member Tony Avella, where the Council approved a plan that was in conflict with the Community Board’s 197-a. The same circumstances arise again today, as the Council is set to approve developer Sheldon Solow’s East River waterfront plans.

As the Brownstoner article explains, The Community-Based Planning Task Force is working on legislation to change the way planning is done in New York City from a top-down to a bottom-up system. It should be noted that, as Baron said, the legislation will, “affect the whole constellation of city planning initiatives,” – not only 197-a planning. For example, the draft legislation addresses the lack of diverse representation on community boards, the need for a comprehensive citywide planning framework, the lack of capacity in the Department of City Planning to provide substantial assistance to communities that plan, and more.

For more information on the principles guiding this effort, please read our Platform for All New Yorkers. We will of course keep you posted on this effort throughout the process.

The NY Observer reported yesterday that the City Council would be making a decision on developer Sheldon Solow’s plans for development of the former ConEdison properties on the East River waterfront tomorrow.  However, this decision has been postponed.

Negotiations continue between Solow and City Council Member Daniel Garodnick.  Among the main points of contention are the use of a proposed office tower (the community wants residential instead), and the creation of a public waterfront park.  Could this mean that the Council could be planning to disprove the development?  Well, as the Observer points out, “While many developers drop out of the land-use process before it reaches the Council… few, if any, have been handed a ‘no’ vote by the Council.”

Yesterday, the City Council heard public testimony about the future of the former ConEdison properties on Manhattan’s East River Waterfront, one of the largest undeveloped plots of land in Manhattan. It simultaneously heard testimony about Manhattan Community Board 6’s 197-a Plan, a comprehensive planning framework for the eastern section of the community board. Report after the jump.

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Today is the final public hearing in the ULURP process for Manhattan Community Board 6’s 197-a Plan, which is being considered side-by-side with developer Sheldon Solow of East River Realty Company’s plans for the development of the former ConEdison properties on the waterfront.  Our testimony follows after the jump — please join us today if you can at 3pm at the Council Chambers to support community-based planning.

Read the rest of this entry »

Since 2000, The Community-Based Planning Task Force has been leading the effort to create a more meaningful role for communities in New York City’s planning and decision-making processes.

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