A rezoning plan limiting the size of Upper West Side storefronts overwhelmingly passed in City Council on Thursday. The proposal, which goes into effect immediately, aims to preserve the diverse, small-store retail character of Broadway, Amsterdam, and Columbus avenues by restricting the width of street-level storefronts.
Supporters of the proposal—including Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer, City Council member Gale Brewer, and former Community Board 7 chair Mel Wymore—have said that the proposal will encourage small mom-and-pop stores to develop and limit the proliferation of banks and chain stores, allowing for a diverse retail experience.
“We cannot be successful as a neighborhood if it’s all banks, and that’s what it’s becoming,” Brewer told the New York Times. “We have to put a halt to it.”
The proposal restricts the widths of most new storefronts along Amsterdam and Columbus avenues between 72nd and 110th streets to 40 feet, and banks on all three avenues to 25 feet. The measure had support from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and passed 49-2.
Introduced by the Department of City Planning in January, the proposal gained the near-unanimous support of CB7 in February and was approved by the New York City Planning Commission in June.
CB7's intention was to preserve the local-business vibe that many believe is a hallmark of the Upper West Side. Judith Norell, who owns Silver Moon Bakery on Broadway and 105th Street, said at a meeting of the community board in March that the neighborhood has changed since she arrived in 1968—“and not for the better.”
“Rents have tripled in my building,” she said. “New York is becoming a chain-store city … the little stores are being kicked out and can’t survive,” but the proposal could help change that.
In response to landlords’ fears that the proposal may stifle businesses, an amendment to the proposal was added in April. The amended version allows businesses to apply for waivers to extend buildings to 60 feet and removes the initial restriction that larger stores, if vacated, must subdivide.
Not everyone was on board with the proposal. In April, the Real Estate Board of New York said that the economy dictates the types of businesses in demand and that the rezoning would add an extra layer of unwanted bureaucracy. Representatives from the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District submitted a letter of testimony against the rezoning to the commissioners.
“Quite simply, these new restrictions will harm our businesses because they will seriously impair our abilities to negotiate with our landlords and inhibit our attempts to expand and grow,” the letter stated. “By putting this rezoning in place, you will hurt the small businesses that this regulation is intended to protect, and in the case of Columbus Avenue, it is already protected by the fact that it is entirely within the Historic District and subject to those rules.”
Although rezoning plans have restricted storefront size in the past to protect a specific type of commerce, this proposal is unique in its goal to preserve both the community's small businesses and the overall pedestrian experience. Supporters are optimistic that the rezoning will achieve these goals and maintain the historical vitality of the streetscape.