NYC Zoning: Upper West Side Residents Fight Against Large Retail Chains

Published on Feb 6, 2012

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Anyone who has lived in New York City for an extended period of time--years, decades--knows it's true: one of the most dominant characteristics of our home is constant, relentless, merciless change. And changing NYC zoning laws try to keep pace with balancing the developer's desire to maximize the profits of their investments, and the local residents desire to define the character of their neighborhoods.

It was true in the 1600s, when Dutch colonists complained that their New Amsterdam was being ruined by new construction; it's true today when just about everyone has a favorite store / bar / building / park / street / restaurant that's gone, or is now so different that they "hardly even recognize it anymore."

Of course, we all have plenty of just-opened stores / bars / buildings / parks / streets / restaurants that are our NEW favorites, but the point is, you can never completely stop the forces of change in this town; the key is to pick your battles.

Which is exactly what some Upper West Side residents are doing right now, hoping to stop the transformation of their once community-focused neighborhood into a giant mall.

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The problem, say UWS apartment residents, is that the shuttering of small, independently-owned businesses in their neighborhood--and the subsequent opening of chain stores and, especially, banks, in their place--has hit a tipping point, and threatens to the destroy the core character of this family-centric community forever.

Now, I appreciate the convenience (and prices) of having certain chain stores nearby as much as the next guy, but as a one-time, two-decade resident of Upper West Side rental apartments, I have to say that the pace of change up there has grown a little alarming. And, apparently, the Department of City Planning agrees.

According to the Wall Street Journal, recently it was announced that City Planning will propose an "unusually agressive" NYC zoning amendment that would severely restrict the size of all future storefronts in the neighborhood, from 72nd Street all the way up to 110th Street (basically, most of the area north of the Lincoln Square area, up through Manhattan Valley to Morningside Heights).

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Banks would be the biggest target. If the new proposal is passed, UWS renters can look forward to a future in which all banks opening on Broadway, Amsterdam, and Columbus Avenues would be limited to 25 feet of sidewalk-facing frontage, or about one-eighth of a block. Other sorts of retail establishments would also be affected, but to a lesser degree: any new store opening on Amsterdam and Columbus would not be able exceed 40 feet of frontage.

Unsurprisingly, the Real Estate Board of New York and the New York Bankers Association oppose any sort of NYC zoning changes like this, and will likely use their considerable political influence and spending-power to stop the new zoning rules from getting past the community-board stage. But still, it's a sign that UWS residents, like more and more New Yorkers all over town, are standing up for their neighborhood, and trying to have a say in the look and feel of their home.

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