Notes from the Neighborhood: Retail Rezoning Debate Heats Up

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The somewhat controversial measure by the Department of City Planning (DCP) to rezone parts of the Upper West Side's retail corridors is chugging through the pipeline of approvals, but it's not without its detractors. The proposal would limit the storefront size of new retail stores along certain highly trafficked areas of Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues to 40 feet in an effort to encourage small businesses and keep out big-box chain stores. The zoning would also limit the frontage of banks and residential lobbies on Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus. It's received enthusiastic support from many local small business owners and members of the community, but the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District and real estate groups have spoken strongly against it, calling it unnecessary and positioning the move as a gamble that won't produce the hoped-for results. Still, it sailed through to an endorsement from Community Board 7, the first step in the official approval process. The latest person to weigh in is Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who gave his conditional approval last week. Stringer wrote in his approval, "While the area has benefited from a significantly low commercial vacancy rate and a variety of smaller scale retail, many residents have expressed concern about recent trends to assemble large commercial spaces. The trend has resulted in storefronts remaining vacant for significant time while property owners wait for neighboring sites to become vacant." He also praised the focus on maintaining a lively and active streetscape as an integral part of a neighborhood's character and a crime deterrent. But Stringer made a few modifications of his own. He proposed that the minimum depth of stores proposed by DCP, 30 feet, be amended to 15 feet, to allow small businesses like florists, newsstands, locksmiths and shoe repair shops to flourish. He also suggested that residential lobbies be allowed 25 feet instead of 15 and that specific language be inserted to allow the Landmarks Preservation Commission to modify the zoning requirement as part of its review process. The proposal is now before the DCP for a 60-day review. It will then move to the City Council for a 50-day review before it will be brought to a final vote.

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