Council Member Marte Hosts Town Hall To Explain His “City of Yes” Objections

Christopher Marte, who represents Lower Manhattan as part of the City Council’s 1st District, wants the massive residential zoning overhaul known as the ‘City of Yes’ to have more “bottom-up” input. The residents who joined a virtual July 1 presentation he gave on the matter seem to agree.

| 03 Jul 2024 | 04:18

As the zoning overhaul that constitutes the housing portion of the ‘City of Yes’ undergoing public review, much of Manhattan’s political establishment appears generally supportive–or at least quiet–when it comes to the Department of City Planning’s vision.

Christopher Marte, the City Council Member for Lower Manhattan’s District 1, is a standout exception. On July 1, he held a town hall with his constituents on the matter, where he expressed his lingering doubts about the zoning amendment.

Marte started by noting that the overarching goal of the ‘City of Yes’ amendment, which is to build lots of new housing everywhere, is “great.” However, he went on, he claimed that the amendment would actually allow for an extended process of “massive deregulation” and a focus on “quantity over quality.”

The Council Member then went into greater detail about his gripes. First of all, Marte said, incentivizing developers to build only a certain percentage of affordable units per building under the plan was not enough. Instead, he added, experience has taught him that most developers would “would rather just build market-rate luxury apartments.” According to Marte, more extensive mandates for affordable housing would be needed in the “City of Yes” plan.

Secondly, Marte said that he thought “most of our beautiful land” is centered “around NYCHA campuses,” and that added “City of Yes” infill could disrupt the air and light that low-income NYCHA tenants have been to enjoy. He also thought that the amendment could end up displacing people from their homes, “because landlords and developers can build a little bit higher and can have more of their lot space.” Marte claimed that “this is actually gonna add additional pressure [on residents], because landlords want to take” the profit that comes with denser buildings.

He also expressed fear about a “City of Yes” provision that would help landmarked buildings sell their air rights. While this could provide necessary upkeep cash for aging landmarks, Marte conceded, he claimed that it could also allow for a surge in the kind of development that he opposes, as developers snatch up those air rights.

Much of this density, Marte believes, would come from an uptick in new single-room occupancy (SRO) units that the “City of Yes” could allow for: “Who are we building for? Are we building for the families to live in our communities and grow in our neighborhoods, or are we building the smallest units to make the most money out of every single apartment?”

The Council Member allowed that some SROs are good for young people and recent college graduates trying to “make it in the city,” yet he still said that he wants a more solid mix of apartment sizes.

When it came to Marte’s proposed prescription for these concerns, he suggested that local residents try to become heavily involved in the “City of Yes” approval process, such as by attending community board meetings and Department of City Planning hearings.

“Nobody knows New York more than New Yorkers. I believe that our community plans should be leading this process,” he said. “The [current ‘City of Yes’] is a top-down approach, not a bottom-up approach.”

Then it came time for some of these very locals to chime in. Justin Cuccia observed that “in the scheme of everything we’re looking at, the definition of ‘affordable’ is always kind of fungible. Affordable should include the poorest of the poor, but it should go in steps.”

Marte agreed with Fuccia that the definition of what constitutes “affordable housing” should indeed be up for grabs, and he said that increasingly dense neighborhoods such as Greenpoint and Long Island City have not “actually” become more affordable, as promised by developers.

Roger Manning, who introduced himself by saying that he involved in recent rezoning matters on Governor’s Island, was curious about Marte’s take on how the “City of Yes” amendment would “might inadvertently affect public space, parks, and supposed parklands in the city.”

”It’s gonna drastically affect open spaces in our campuses.When you look at [Battery Park City’s] Gateway Plaza, when you look at Stuy-Town, the [City of Yes] is gonna allow more development between the current buildings. It’s not just in our public housing campuses, but in these large-scale neighborhoods,” Marte claimed, although it remains yet to be seen exactly where developers will choose to take advantage of looser infill regulations.

Eddie Panta brought up the SoHo/NoHo/Chinatown zoning overhaul, which Marte cited earlier as an example of another drastic zoning change that is similar to the “City of Yes” provisions. Specifically, Panta wanted to know if the “City of Yes” would negate that zoning regime. “The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program would continue to exist in that area,” Marte allowed, before clarifying that he was still worried about “air rights” transfer in that area.

City Council modifications of the “City of Yes”–and a vote on the overall plan– is expected by this fall, at the earliest. If Marte has his way, it will receive some substantial alterations.