The City Council approved a plan to rezone a large swath of the Upper West Side late Thursday night by a vote of 49-2. The plan, supported by the mayor, will limit the size of storefronts on Broadway, Columbus Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue above 72nd Street, and limit banks in particular to 25-foot storefronts. It was designed to address concerns voiced by Upper West Siders that the neighborhood is being taken over by large chain stores, which force out smaller shops and leave blocks feeling dead and empty. Under the plan, most new storefronts on Columbus and Amsterdam would have to be less than 40 feet.
The proposal was criticized by landlords and the banking industry as a heavy-handed government intrusion that could have unintended consequences; the neighborhood will continue to be filled with chains, they say, because that’s what locals want and those are the kinds of stable tenants that landlords are seeking. They also argued that holding businesses to just 40 feet of street frontage will stunt the neighborhood’s growth and keep small businesses from expanding.
City Council member Gale Brewer helped come up with a compromise plan that dealt with some of those worries. For one thing, it will allow businesses to apply for waivers to open stores as large as 60 feet. And larger stores that are already in place won’t have to subdivide if they are vacated. We have more on the changes and what they mean for the neighborhood here.
Brewer released a statement that read in part: “Old-time West Siders as well as young professionals have written and e-mailed, and stopped me on the street, to say how badly the neighborhood needs the protections contained in the proposal. They want a local, community-centered commercial environment that serves their needs, just as it has always done. And what store owners believe makes them successful is the diversity of many different stores on a block and many reasons for shoppers to come there. People do not visit and move to the upper West Side for the block-long stores and banks, and this proposal will ensure the look and feel of the upper West Side for the future.”
Mel Wymore, a City Council candidate who worked closely on the rezoning said: “City Council’s adoption of storefront zoning is a terrific example of government responding directly and effectively to its citizens. Thanks to Council member Gale Brewer, Community Board 7, and Department of City Planning, the Upper West Side will continue to enjoy its wonderful mix of neighborhood stores, large and small.”