Voices Of The Everyday People, a community-based advocacy organization, plans to file a lawsuit Monday challenging the Department of City Planning's 125th Street rezoning proposal, the organization announced at a meeting Saturday afternoon.
Among other provisions, the rezoning plan would reduce height restrictions for buildings along 125th Street from 2nd Avenue to Broadway and allow for bigger and taller residential buildings, which has some residents concerned that developers will build large, unaffordable housing complexes. The proposal was approved last week by both the City Council's Zoning and Franchises subcommittee and Land Use committee, with modifications from Councilwoman Inez Dickens (D-Central Harlem and Morningside Heights) that included an increase in affordable housing measures. After the modifications are approved by City Planning, the plan is subject to a full council vote, scheduled for Wednesday.
The lawsuit seeks either to stop Wednesday's council vote by means of an injunction or, if the vote goes forward, to "stay the effect of the vote," attorney Michael Hiller said. According to Hiller and leaders of VOTE People, the city violated its constitutional obligations of due process by not providing written notification to property owners who would be most adversely affected by the rezoning.
"When they pass something as dramatic as this without notice and an opportunity to be heard, that's a constitutional violation, and that's not right," Hiller said at a Saturday VOTE People meeting of 30 people. "Together I think we can do it."
"I'm not completely sold on the due process thing," said Julius Tajiddin, a member of Central Harlem's Community Board 10, after the VOTE People meeting. "It's been in newspapers and on TV—if people don't hear about it, they don't want to."
Hiller pointed to the 1950 case Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that notice of legal proceedings must be "reasonably calculated" for those most adversely affected by government action, and that notification through news media alone was inadequate.
Tajiddin said he felt more strongly about VOTE People's alternative argument, which will not be included in Monday's lawsuit due to filing deadlines. According to the leaders of the group, an obscure law that has existed for 110 years states that the council must approve the rezoning plan by three-quarters, rather than a simple majority, if 20 percent of adjacent property owners sign a written protest against the plan.
"The city's got to guarantee that people's civil rights have been provided," Hiller said.