By Councilwoman Debi Rose
The North Shore Renaissance that we have talked about for years continues to move forward. We are opening new schools, renovating and opening parks, and strengthening our small-business corridors. A potential next step in this renaissance is a rezoning of our Bay Street Corridor, which would allow industrial land connecting the centers of Tompkinsville and Stapleton along the Staten Island Railroad to be developed for commercial and residential use. Our goal is to ensure that our neighborhoods remain vibrant, walkable, well-planned and affordable for those who want to continue to live here, with all the infrastructure needed to make our neighborhoods a great place to live.
After nearly three years of community input, the Department of City Planning has released its draft Environmental Impact Statement, beginning a seven-month period of public review culminating in a vote at the City Council. My position with the administration over the last three years has been clear: We will not undertake this rezoning without public investments in appropriate infrastructure to support a future increase in density.
For far too long, zoning on Staten Island has been altered parcel by parcel, with little regard for the greater picture. Now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for comprehensive waterfront planning and significant investment in infrastructure, including school seats, an enhanced sewer system, open space, and a brand new, state-of-the-art Cromwell Center in Tompkinsville.
As we enter the formal public review process (ULURP), we must all ask ourselves how we want the North Shore to look and function decades from now. Do we want to move forward as we have for decades on a piecemeal basis, with developers approaching the city for a small rezonings of one parcel after the next, with little regard to how they fit together? Or do we want to take a comprehensive look at Tompkinsville and Stapleton, and work together on a rezoning that includes long-term planning, enhanced public waterfront access and capital investments in our infrastructure?
Since this rezoning was first proposed three years ago, I have spent a lot of time listening to constituents’ concerns, in formal meetings, informal conversations, a Stapleton town hall and a Local Advisory Board of community residents. Besides our infrastructure needs, the most pressing concern I hear in these conversations is the need for housing for all ages and income levels, especially for longtime residents of the North Shore who fear being squeezed out by the high cost of living.
A rezoning would allow for the private development—on lots currently zoned for industrial uses—of residential buildings where the majority of units would rent at market rate, and a portion of units would be set aside for low- and middle-income individuals and families, similar to the residents who currently live in these neighborhoods. Our borough’s rich manufacturing history will continue to thrive in the western portion of the island, while this section along Bay Street and the underutilized Staten Island railway will better meet our commercial and residential needs.
The right mix of market rate and affordable housing will provide space for seniors, families, young professionals and more, preserving the culture, fabric and opportunity of our North Shore neighborhoods. When Mayor de Blasio proposed this and other rezonings in his 2015 State of the City address, he reminded us that New York City is not a gated community, that our city can only remain great if families can thrive in the neighborhoods they have called home. And we can reach that goal with a viable neighborhood plan.
We do so with a special commitment to those who currently live here. The mayor has allocated $36 million for provide free legal representation in housing court for all tenants in rezoned neighborhoods facing harassment, building neglect or eviction proceedings.
If this rezoning moves forward, we will not see development overnight. Rather, we would lay a responsible blueprint for property owners to follow when they do decide to develop. This blueprint would respect waterfront view corridors and enhance public access to our waterfront. While infrastructure improvements would move forward as soon as possible, the rezoning blueprint we create will not be fully realized for decades.
The decisions we make in this public process will shape the future of our North Shore. My priority in these discussions will be creating a vibrant neighborhood and boosting quality of life – with the hope that the North Shore of tomorrow will continue to provide the same life-giving opportunities for our grandchildren as it did for our grandparents.