The Rezoning Commitment Tracker plots the projects planned for Downtown Far Rockaway // Credit: NYC.gov

With Rezoning Tracker Tool, Communities Keep Tabs on City’s Growth

By Jonathan Sperling

Massive upzonings underway in Downtown Far Rockaway and several other low-income neighborhoods have fueled concerns about gentrification and displacement among longtime residents. But a new tool aims to alleviate some of those concerns.

On June 29, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the City had launched an online “Rezoning Commitments Tracker,” an interactive map that allows users to view information about the city’s rezoning progress and commitments.

The tool will allow community members to hold the city accountable for the commitments it outlined as part of each rezoning proposal. In addition to Downtown Far Rockaway, the map details concurrent rezonings in East Harlem, East New York, Greater East Midtown, and along Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.

“My administration is dedicated to creating a stronger and fairer city by giving communities a voice in the planning process,” de Blasio said in a statement. “The NYC Rezoning Commitments Tracker will provide New Yorkers the transparency and accountability they deserve when it comes to the progress of projects in their neighborhoods.”

When the New York City Council voted unanimously to approve a $300 million rezoning plan for Downtown Far Rockaway, many residents and community organizations in the beachfront neighborhood said they were nervous about who exactly would benefit from such an undertaking.

The City had upzoned the area for higher-density development, paving the way for taller and larger buildings that the de Blasio administration says will lead to greater economic growth. Though the City also outlined investments in education, affordable housing, job development and transit, some residents said they were wary of development that would attract wealthy newcomers and price them out of their homes.

At a Community Board 14 meeting about the rezoning plan last year, residents told City Limits that they were also concerned with potential overcrowding that could come as a result of new developments.

“All of these questions could be solved so much easier by potentially being a somewhat smaller project,” CB14 member Mordechai Dicker told City Limits.

The new tracker splits the City’s redevelopment commitments into five categories: Housing, Open Space, Community Resources, Transportation & Infrastructure, and Economic & Workforce Development. Each category contains an explanation of the stated commitments. When users click on a commitment, the tracker displays its geographic location. Users can also view the status of an initiative, its timeline and the agency that is responsible.

The “Develop 100% affordable housing on public land” commitment, for example, shows users that the development of 150 to 200 units of affordable housing on Beach 21st Street is currently in progress and will be completed by 2020. That development, which is overseen by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), will contain 100 percent affordable housing for residents who earn extremely low, very low, low and moderate incomes, according to the City.

HPD will also require developers to expand their advertising for housing lotteries and keep existing homes affordable by offering loans and tax incentives to building owners.

In the Transportation & Infrastructure category, the tracker promises that the Department of Transportation will implement a streetscape improvement project that includes a town square-style public plaza, a transit corridor on Beach 21st Street, wider sidewalks, improved street lighting and landscaping. The category also touts the DOT’s advocacy for improved Long Island Railroad, subway and bus service, including the completion of the Q52/53 bus extension to Beach 54th Street last March.

As for developing Far Rockaway’s economy and workforce, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), along with other city agencies, plans to use $91 million in capital funding to complete the Downtown Far Rockaway Roadmap for Action. The proposal would build on the neighborhood’s existing infrastructure and support the growth of affordable housing, commerce and local industry.

Around 5 percent of Far Rockaway’s labor force is unemployed, according to the most recent American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. HPD plans to promote hiring and job opportunities for locals by connecting them with a network of career centers.

City officials say they are confident that the rezoning in Far Rockaway will support the local community at the same time as it attracts new residents.

“Downtown Far Rockaway is one of the most successful rezonings in the city’s recent history,” NYCEDC Spokesperson Ryan Birchmeier told the Queens Daily Eagle.

Today, District 31 Council Member Donovan Richards, who represents Far Rockaway, will convene with officials from the New York City Land Development Corporation and HPD for a special announcement about the affordable housing plan and progress related to the rezoning.

Birchmeier did not provide additional information about the announcement, which will take place today at 10-37 Beach 21st Street.

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