Harlem residents vow to fight rezoning

April 1, 2008 4:59:15 PM PDT
A hardly-used, 110-year-old clause in New York City's Charter is at the heart of an ugly battle in Harlem.The fight is over plans to transform 125th Street into a new business hub.

But the mom-and-pop shops that have been there for decades don't want it, claiming it will force them from the neighborhood.

Eyewitness News reporter Joe Torres has more.

"This proposal to rezone 125th Street will be the death nail for Harlem," said Nellie Bailey, of the Harlem Tenants' Association.

That's the feeling of an advocacy group that strongly opposes the city's ambitious rezoning plan of Harlem's 125th Street.

"We believe people who work there and live there and want to stay there should be protected," civil rights attorney Norman Seigel said. "The current plan does not adequately and meaningfully protect them."

So to stop the plan, the group Vote People scoured through the City Charter and found a 110-year-old provision that says if enough signatures from nearby property owners are gathered, Council members would need a 3/4 vote to approve the plan instead of a simple majority. But opponents don't have much time.

"We have until April 9 to get 20 percent of the property owners to get their protests in," Vote People's Erica Razook said.

City leaders, meantime, say the rezoning will bolster Harlem's arts and culture, strengthen the retail and commercial district and create housing and jobs, all while enhancing Harlem's distinct character.

As for the community's concerns, a city planning department spokesperson says, "This comprehensive plan was developed with an unprecedented amount of outreach and consensus, building with the business community, the institutions on 125th Street and the residents of Harlem."

"It's done a lot of good for me, like the stores and stuff, the clothing stores and the new restaurants they opened up," resident Shawn Reyes said. "I'm feeling that."

"What they are doing is moving the people who are here out of here," resident Frank Dent said. "That's what they are doing. It's ridiculous."

City Council members are expected to vote on the rezoning plan later this month.