Manhattan BP Hotseat for Chinatown/LES Rezoning Plan

A coalition of groups opposing the proposed rezoning of the Lower East Side held a trilingual press conference and protest outside Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's Office today, delivering a petition asking him to reject the rezoning plan recently approved by Manhattan Community Board 3.

“There’s obviously huge community opposition to this plan – for him to continue his political career ignoring community opposition is a disgrace” said Josephine Lee of the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, a member of the Coalition to Preserve Chinatown and the Lower East Side, which held the press conference.

The protest continues a campaign waged at CB3 meetings and elsewhere, pursuing a revised rezoning plan that includes more of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The group claims its petition has been signed by 10,000 people asking the Borough President to reject the rezoning plan.

The Coalition claims that the rezoning plan divides out racial groups in the Lower East Side and received inadequate community review before approval. A document provided by the Coalition claimed that the rezoning protects 73% of CB3’s white residences in an area that is majority Asian and Hispanic.

“They want to use racial politics to divide our community” said Yadira Alverez, also with the Coalition. Chants and protesters at the rally repeatedly described the plan as “racist rezoning.”

In response, Community Board 3 has offered to begin a rezoning process for Chinatown, said Dominic Pisciotta, Board Chair of Community Board 3, who also defended the rezoning review process, calling the current plan the result of “three years of a diversity of community groups working together in open public monthly meetings.”

Representatives from Stringer’s office and the Coalition gave conflicting accounts of their previous discussions – the Coalition claims that previous meetings with Stringer were canceled without explanation; the BP’s office said in a statement that they have met previously with the Coalition, which has since declined multiple offers to meet with Stringer. The protest and petition delivery sparked talk of a formal meeting with the BP over the rezoning, with Coalition leaders claiming that they would meet with Stringer on Friday.

Already, developers have targeted the Chinatown and Lower East Side areas outside the rezoning area. New luxury condos on Orchard, Hester, and Mulberry Streets have left their mark on the downtown neighborhoods. The Coalition and its supporters fear that more expensive developments are on the way should the rezoning pass review.

“Chinatown is getting squeezed on all sides” said Tom Agnotti, the Director of the Center for Community Planning at Hunter College. “Manhattan’s Chinatown isn't even the city’s largest Chinatown anymore – in order for it to survive as a vibrant community, there needs to be serious planning, and an effort at serious preservation.”

Whether by another rezoning plan or commercial development, the protest foreshadows a turbulent future for Chinatown. Manhattan Borough President Stringer has until August 8th to make his decision on the current rezoning plan.

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