On November 6th, 2006, the Department of City Planning (DCP) presented its plan to guide future development of the Lower East Side (LES) in anticipation of the area’s first rezoning since 1961. In the plan, the vast majority of the area, encompassing more than 100 city blocks, would be rezoned with a height cap of 80 feet. The zoning would also end a height exemption available for most community facilities, such as dorms or hospitals, and would require new developments to build flush to the street line, preventing “tower-in-park” buildings that soar high above the low-rise neighborhoods.
However, areas along with East Houston, Delancey, and Christie Streets, and stretches of Second Avenue and Avenue D will be rezoned to allow buildings up to 12 stories high, if developers agree to set aside 20 percent of their projects as affordable housing in accordance with the city’s expanding Inclusionary Housing Program.
Opponents of the plan fear that increased development will transform the neighborhood’s character, increasing traffic and will displace longtime residents. They further fear that existing, lower-rise buildings will be razed to make way for new developments built up to the height limit. Some residents also argue that the plan doesn’t provide enough affordable housing. Others have argued that the rezoning does not extend far enough and should also include 3rd and 4th Avenues and the east side of the Bowery.
Some developers also oppose the existing plan as too restrictive of development. Proponents of the plan say it strikes a good balance between preserving the area’s existing character with more restrictive zoning and creating corridors for increased housing density and incentives for affordable housing.
The City’s public review process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, was certified on May 5, 2008, by the DCP. The rezoning plan was subsequently approved by Community Board 3 and the Manhattan Borough President both with conditions. The City Planning Commission (CPC) approved the plan in October 2008. The City Council voted in favor of the rezoning on November 19, 2008.
In February 2009, a coalition of community groups sued both Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of City Planning over the rezoning citing concerns that environmental impact requirements were not properly followed leading up to the approval of the rezoning. The suit was filed in Manhattan State Supreme Court.