CB8 Continues Debate Over Residential Rezoning Hopes

At a Feb. 13 meeting of Community Board 8’s Task Force For Residential Rezoning, locals and board members considered what successfully rezoning commercial blocks–to allow for more residential development–on the UES might look like.

| 17 Feb 2024 | 04:29

Upper East Side residents debated the pros and cons of the possible future rezoning of certain blocks in the E. 60s and E. 70s, at a Feb. 13 “Task Force For Residential Rezoning” convened by Community Board 8.

These zones are currently classified as either C8-4 or M1-4 zones, which essentially means that building new affordable housing is a no-go (“C” stands for commercial, and “M” stands for manufacturing). This is according to Task Force Co-Chair Adam Wald, who laid out five different blocks–which border E. 60th & E. 61th, E. 61st St. & E. 62nd St., E. 61st & E. 62nd St., E. 73rd & E. 74th St., and E. 74th St.–for discussion.

The block that entirely sits on E. 74th St., Wald noted, belongs to Con Ed. The block that borders both E. 73rd St. & E. 74th St. was partially flipped for $70 million in 2021, when the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) bought a couple of adjoining lots. Wald said that he has no idea “what HSS intends to do. I have posed this question to them in a previous [CB8] meeting.”

“It’s a shame that HSS is occupying so much space on 1st Ave., because that could’ve been a perfect location for residential development. Instead, HSS is taking up more than 200,000 ft., and they’re not building their own development here. I consider that a lost opportunity,” he added.

The remaining blocks are less clear-cut in terms of distinct ownership, although the zoning block on E. 62nd St. is notably split between the The Schwarzman Animal Medical Center and the Bentley Hotel. Some blocks seemingly have preexisting rent-stabilized units.

What changes could be made? Elizabeth Rose, the other Task Force Co-Chair, outlined six possible “R” (or Residential) zone types: R8B, R10A, R9X, R9A, R8A, and R7X. She opined that R10A would would “generate the most residential housing of any of the zone types,” given its significant Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and high height limit.

”It seems like height is a trigger point or trigger conversation for many in the community,” she observed.

Then it was time for public comment. Andrew Ellis, who noted that he has lived on E. 95th St. for 11 years, brought up that trigger point right away. “I think we need to recognize that there’s a dire need for housing in this city,” he said. However, he also expressed his hope that the Board would “prioritize limiting the height so it’s characteristic of the neighborhood, especially in the mid-block area.”

Then the meeting became newly contentious. Leo Schaff, who lives on E. 95 St. and self-identified as a vociferous opponent of an rezoning plan on E. 94th St.–which would allow for a 46-story affordable housing tower, and which CB8 has conditionally signed off on–seemed to take issue with the entire rezoning idea.

Some of the blights of building affordable housing, he personally believes, are “noise, obliteration of light, and the great disruption of the character of the neighborhood.” Addressing the Task Force Chairs, he asked if they would “be able to advocate for us? Us lowly laypeople who have lived in the neighborhood for so long? Not in big high-rises, in smaller apartment buildings.”

Hedging a bit, Schaff said that he was “very much an advocate for truly affordable housing. Not a problem. I don’t want the UES to turn into 6th Ave.”

Rose thanked Wald for his passion, and said that she didn’t want to be misunderstood; indeed, the meeting was all about “rezoning these commercial and manufacturing blocks to residential, but with a framework that respects neighborhood character.”

Yet, Rose said, “that doesn’t mean the community will stay exactly as it is.” In a nod to CB8’s mere advisory role, she clarified that they “cannot stop this change...but can have some involvement in what that change can ultimately look like.”

Ed Hertzog, an attorney and fellow CB8 Board Member, used his speaking slot to acknowledge how developers take advantage of the law. The real estate industry, he said, have lawyers that look at rezoning “24/7. As anyone who plays sports knows, if your opponents are working on their skills 24/7, they’re gonna be better than you.”

In a notable question, he also asked if current UESers “will be displaced by rezoning,” thereby unintentionally turning the neighborhood into “Billionaire’s Row.” This may have been a reference to the 2021 rezoning of SoHo & NoHo, which local advocates claim has reduced the stability of rent-regulated tenants.

Wald believes that rent-regulated apartments would not be touched under CB8’s rezoning aspirations, and that they intended to advocate for the replacement of manufacturing zones. “These zones could end up being more life sciences buildings or self-storage buildings. It would be better for the UES to have residential zoning instead of a self-storage facility,” she said.