City nixes Chinatown / L.E.S. special district

Cathy Dang, of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, spoke at a City Hall rally after the bad news on the proposal.   Photo by Gerard Flynn

Cathy Dang, of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, spoke at a City Hall rally after the bad news on the proposal.
Photo by Gerard Flynn

BY GERARD FLYNN  |  It’s been more than six years since the push began for a “special district” for the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The idea drew together community groups, residents and urban planners from around the city, scrambling to save a community facing hyper real-estate development — and growing tenant harassment.

The Chinatown Working Group fleshed out a proposal for a “community-based plan.”

On top of capping large-scale development in certain areas, the proposal calls for giving New York City Housing Authority residents some say on any push for “infill” development on public-housing property. It also sought to stymie any large-scale development looming along the East Side waterfront.

But this month a letter from the Department of City Planning brought disappointment to many from the more than 60 organizations involved.

In calling the proposal “far-reaching,” the letter, signed by Planning Chairperson Carl Weisbrod, expressed “appreciation” for the community’s efforts and said that he and the agency “share many of the goals of the C.W.G.”

However, the coalition’s plan, the city concluded, is “not feasible at this time.”

The letter added that, in a “spirit of shared vision…targeted areas of opportunity for development” were under consideration.

A Planning spokesperson said, “The Special Chinatown and Lower East River District study has not been advanced to become an application at City Planning.”

Cathy Dang, the director of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, told The Villager that the plan proposes changes in five subdistricts, but only one of them, the “Chinatown Core” district — which runs roughly south from Grand St. — would be looked at.

She sounded deeply disappointed at a rally held on the steps of City Hall last week.

“We knew, we knew this was going to happen,” she told the crowd, mostly members of tenant-rights groups, who gathered to call for a more inclusiveness planning process. Mayor de Blasio came by, but was headed for business inside the Council chambers.

Dang promised that the effort has been a “long process” but was far from over.

“We are going to push it to the end,” she said.

She said City Planning had been in conversation with Community Board 3 about the proposal, and that during those talks, agency officials said, “We are not going to consider your plan.”

The agency’s interest in preserving the historic district has raised eyebrows, she said.

“My concern with City Planning’s interest in the Chinatown Core was — ‘I will give you Chinatown Core and we will take everything else around it,’ ” she said.

She denied rumors that the city feels the plan is asking for too much.

“It downzoned some parts and upzoned some parts,” she said. “It’s not an ambitious plan. We compromised in many parts of the plan.”

Gigi Li, C.B. 3 chairperson, noted the proposed special district had “far-reaching boundaries,” reaching as far north as E. 14th St.

The plan included some areas — such as the long swath of public-housing developments east of Avenue D — that were left out of the big East Village / Lower East Side rezoning that was approved at the end of 2008. The area roughly between the Brooklyn Bridge and E. Houston St., over to the Bowery and Centre St., was also targeted in the proposal.

“C.B. 3 will continue working with City Planning on shared priorities in certain targeted areas of the plan,” Li told The Villager.

The mayor, Dang said, is not pursuing the proposal because Chinatown is “not developable” right now.

“There’s not much land to develop,” she noted. “The mayor wants to rezone 15 neighborhoods and we are not a priority.”

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