A rezoning proposal restricting storefront sizes on the Upper West Side was amended by the city this week to give landlords more flexibility.
The proposal, if passed by City Council, will limit the width of storefronts, banks, and residential lobbies to preserve the “small-store” character of the Upper West Side. The recent amendments loosen the original proposal’s restrictions on existing businesses that want to expand, allow currently non-conforming businesses to be permanently “grandfathered” into the rezoning, and increase the maximum width of residential lobbies from 15 to 25 feet.
The rezoning proposal, which was approved unanimously by Community Board 7 in February and will be ruled on by the City Planning Commission on May 9, has divided Upper West Siders and drawn the ire of some business groups.
The Real Estate Board of New York, which originally feared that the proposal would jeopardize businesses and property owners, voiced support for the amendments.
“REBNY appreciate the responsiveness of Chair Amanda Burden and her staff at DCP [Department of City Planning] to work cooperatively to mitigate the proposal’s adverse impact,” the organization said in a statement. “We will continue to work with City Planning and the City Council as this proposal is refined.”
But proponents of the rezoning are divided on the new amendments. Former CB7 chair Mel Wymore, who is running for an Upper West Side City Council seat, said that the relaxed restrictions do not threaten the proposal’s original objective—maintaining an active, small-scale streetscape.
“That remains the net effect of the proposal,” Wymore said.
Wymore said that the “most important” change is the decision to allow businesses to expand up to 60 feet—instead of 40 feet—without needing to obtain an Environmental Impact Statement—a process, Wymore said, that could take more than a year. Under the revised proposal, businesses would be able to go through a faster process with the city planning department.
Wymore added that the decision to expand the maximum lobby size—a response to Stringer’s concern that lobbies would have limited design options—would be easiest to implement. But the decision to allow businesses to grandfather non-conforming buildings could be contentious.
“I think you have various perspectives ... It’s a streamlining of the zoning resolution in a certain way,” Wymore said, adding that the amendment “affords for the larger spaces to be larger.”
He added that community board members wanted less grandfathering, whereas landlords wanted more. He noted that grandfathering would eliminate concerns that landmarks would be affected by the rezoning proposal, and that only 37 buildings would be affected by this amendment. Just one of those buildings is north of 96th Street, according to former CB7 chair Shelly Fine.
Helen Rosenthal, another former CB7 chair and Upper West Side City Council candidate, said she was “not a fan” of the amendments.
“It doesn’t strike me that it moves us in the direction of maintaining our independent businesses,” Rosenthal, who will face Wymore for the City Council seat in 2013, said. “You know, the goal of the rezoning was always intended to improve the retention of family-owned businesses.”
According to Peter Arndtsen, president of the Columbus-Amsterdam Business Improvement District, property owners are mostly concerned that larger and more prominent businesses would be able to legally circumvent the restrictions, regardless of the details of the rezoning plan.
“A key piece is that it’s evenly applied,” Arndtsen said.
At this point in the legislative process, Arndtsen said, the proposal is “beyond community input.” But while he has not been tracking the proposal closely since it has moved past the community board level, he is optimistic about leadership at the city planning department.
“They’ve been very open to hearing ideas about the process,” Arndtsen said. “I trust there will be something that works for them.”