community power

Judge Nixes Inwood Rezoning, Siding With Locals Against Mayoral Building Plan

Dyckman Street and Broadway in Inwood.
Dyckman Street and Broadway in Inwood. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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In a major blow to a high-profile neighborhood rezoning plan from Mayor Bill de Blasio, a judge on Thursday struck down land use changes in Inwood approved by the City Council last year.

The decision by Supreme Court Judge Verna Saunders annulled the Council’s August 2018 approval of the neighborhood zoning plan, which set off a firestorm in the Upper Manhattan community.

The judge sided with local residents who sued, contending the prior environmental review of the project ignored concerns they’d raised.

Those concerns included the potential for tenant displacement, the impact on minority- and women-owned businesses, and the “social impact of the loss of the community’s library” — a major flashpoint in the run-up to the approval of the land use changes in 2018.

Saunders sent the matter back to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development — currently headed by Vicki Been — to study issues raised by the plaintiffs, a coalition known as Unified Inwood.

Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department, said the administration would dispute the “legally incorrect” ruling.

“We stand by the city’s thorough environmental review and will challenge this decision so important projects, including the building of 1,600 new affordable homes in this community, can proceed,” he said.

A 59-Block Transformation

The rezoning, first announced by the de Blasio administration in 2015, aimed to promote expanded housing development including affordable apartments, encompassed 59 blocks of Inwood north of Dyckman Street.

The Inwood project was one of five rezonings of New York neighborhoods de Blasio has pressed to spur development of affordable housing.

The land use changes attracted major interest from developers, according to an analysis by The New York Times. The paper found real estate investors bought more than $610 million in properties there after 2013, when the rezoning idea went public.

Those who fought against the rezoning declared victory as the decision came down Thursday afternoon. State Sen. Robert Jackson celebrated with a tweet, declaring “the Inwood Rezoning has been STRUCK DOWN!!!” and thanking both Inwood Legal Action and Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale, key players in the lawsuit.

Precedent for the City

Uptown resident Ayisha Oglivie, a member of Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale, said it was “like Christmas” when she read the decision.

“I was screaming at the top of my lungs,” she said.

Oglivie said the ruling made hours of meetings, rallies and protests around the rezoning worth it.

“It’s about justice for our community,” she said. “This is about precedent being set for this entire city.”

Karla Fisk, a local resident and representative of Inwood Legal Action, said the group is “very happy” with the ruling.

“This is a win for all of Inwood: Our whole community, our neighbors and our local minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as for all New York City neighborhoods that have been targeted for de Blasio’s rezonings,” she said.

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