Almost a year after the city said it was moving quickly to propose a rezoning plan for Inwood, the city has yet to produce a draft scope of work describing the details of the proposal. Some believe the city put the rezoning on the backburner after community residents pushed local Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez to say no to Sherman Plaza, a privately-initiated mixed-income development project planned for the area that would have used city subsides. The administration expressed displeasure with Rodriguez’s no vote on the project, which some residents said was too tall, and others, not deeply affordable enough.
“Conversations about the Inwood Neighborhood Plan are ongoing as the city has sought to take in extensive community feedback about the best way to move forward,” said Russell Murphy, a spokesperson for Rodriguez in an e-mail to City Limits. “We continue to be very interested in this process and hope that we will arrive at a plan that pleases the many who have weighed in about the needs of Inwood.”
In the meantime, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is working with Rodriguez and the Robin Hood Foundation on another project to bring housing to the area: redeveloping the Inwood public library with 100 percent rent-restricted housing and a renovated library space of the same size. HPD held community visioning sessions for the library in January and say the feedback they received will inform a Request for Proposal (RFP) released for the site later this year. The library, which was built in the 1950s, has been renovated before, but the City says it needs further improvement.
According to DNAInfo, the library project has sparked an argument between Rodriguez and Citizens Defending Libraries, a citywide group that organizes against library redevelopment projects. The group’s founder, Michael White, says that the city’s past library redevelopment projects have benefited the real-estate industry more than library users, and points out that in one case a redeveloped library got smaller, while in another the library was closed for longer than expected.
White says that rather than approaching Inwood residents with a plan to redevelop the library with housing, the city ought to ask Inwood library users what they want and consider alternative proposals, including not redeveloping the library at all, redeveloping a larger library or developing a mixed use library and commercial space.
The Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale Coalition, which includes local residents as well as citywide groups like Faith in New York and the Metropolitan Council on Housing, is still determining its position. The group agrees that HPD have not created space for sufficient feedback from the local Spanish-speaking community, and they are hosting their own community town hall to solicit more input at Good Shepherd School Auditorium, 620 Isham Street, on Saturday March 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.
So far, members of the group are in agreement that they don’t want the city to sell the land to a private developer, but might be more open to a project if the land was held by a community land trust, a nonprofit entity governed by a board of residents and community members and dedicated to ensuring the structures on the land remain permanently affordable. They’re still debating whether redevelopment would be appropriate and if so, in what shape and form.
The coalition has heard some community members express concerns about the height of a new development and how long the library could be out of service, but others have noted the neighborhood’s need for housing for seniors, homeless families and those making less than 50 percent AMI.
“We need to be building and preserving affordable housing that actually affordable to the community,” said Maya Bhardwaj of Faith In New York, a member of the coalition.
The group organized against the Sherman Plaza development on the grounds that it failed to include enough deeply affordable housing.
The group Inwood Preservation has issued their own list of demands, including that the library land remain city-owned or become part of a community land trust, that a replacement library be provided before the current library is demolished, that preferably the existing building would be “repurposed” rather than “demolished,” and that the new zoning would be similar to what now exists, or at least that a height limit of seven or eight stories would be applied. A survey released by HPD showed the agency was considering building heights from six to as many as seventeen stories, according to DNAInfo.
In an e-mail to City Limits, Rodriguez expressed his interest in using a community land trust at the site.
“At the end of the day, our community desperately needs deeply affordable housing and moving this project forward can have tremendous benefits. I’ll remain vocal about exploring the creation a community land trust, as well as using the adjacent parking lot space and the underutilized space behind the library that has sat dormant for years, which can add to the number of units and provide important community amenities like an indoor sports facility or more,” he said.