Thirty years ago, in response to incongruous Tower-in-the-Park development promoted by New York’s 1961 Zoning Resolution, Upper West Siders worked with elected officials and city planners to establish Contextual Zoning Districts.  In 2007, together we succeeded in extending contextual protection to the blocks between West 97th and 110th Streets.  Our goal was and is to ensure that any future development would be in keeping with the character of our avenues and midblocks.
The 1984 zoning amendment identified building types that contribute to “distinctive environments” on the Upper West Side.  For example:
The typical midblock building is the 3 to 6-story, 55 to 60 foot high ‘brownstone’…The consistency with which these building types north of 68th Street repeat themselves is the key to the strength and clarity of the image of the West Side [emphasis added]. 

West 70th Street, a typical brownstone-scale midblock, protected by R8B contextual zoning and historic district status.

Mayor de Blasio‘s new zoning proposal would
raise height limits in contextual districts
like these by as much as 20-30%!

The result will be higher, bulkier, out-of-character new buildings that do not adhere to the streetwall, undermining the neighborhood’s human scale and unique sense of place.
Extell’s Ariel Towers, under construction in 2007, triggered community action to ensure sound, contextual development. Jacob Silberberg for The New York Times (June 17, 2007)

The City claims that zoning amendments are needed in the name of architectural quality, affordable housing, senior living, and other laudable goals.  The problem is, this proposal ensures none of these aims.  It is a massive give-away to developers who have been trying to overturn our city’s hard-won zoning and historic district protections for decades.
The contextual zoning and landmark designations that guide this neighborhood’s growth and change (and the neighborhood has grown and changed) were thoughtfully designed and democratically adopted policies intended to fairly balance the maintenance of this neighborhood’s charms with the real needs for added development. 

Elliott Sclar (now director of Center for Sustainable Urban Development, The Earth Institute, Columbia University), letter dated January 10, 2003

Big-money real-estate interests are eager to see the rules change.  We need to work together to make sure that doesn’t happen.  The new citywide rezoning proposal is entering the public review process. In the next few weeks and months, local Community Boards, Borough Presidents, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council will hold public hearings and vote on the plan. As each new hearing date is announced, will will tell you where it is and when to be there.
Here’s what you can do right now:

Write to your City Council Member, Community Board, and Borough President Gale Brewer. Copy the following text into an email:

I do not want the current and future contextual neighborhood zoning protections to be weakened by allowing height limits within these protected areas to be raised by 20-30%.  The proposed citywide rezoning plan would overturn communities’ hard-won zoning and historic district protections in one fell swoop.  The result would be higher, bulkier, out-of-character new buildings that undermine individual neighborhoods’ human scale and unique sense of place.  This is not the way to ensure affordability, architectural quality, and quality of life in our city.  Please do not allow this zoning proposal to pass.
Hon. Gale BrewerManhattan Borough President 
Phone: (212) 669-8300
Hon. Helen RosenthalCity Council District 6
District Office Phone: (212) 873-0282
Hon. Mark Levine, City Council District 7
District Office Phone: (212) 928-6814
Manhattan Community Board 7
Phone: (212) 362-4008
For more information about City Council districts, please click here; or about Community Boards, click here.
We are not alone!  Click here to read the excellent letter circulated by our colleagues at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.  This is an issue that affects us all!

If you have any further questions, contact us at:

NEW YORK, NY 10023
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