Harlemites to Join Hands to Protest Rezoning


Photo by striatic via Flickr

At least 500 Harlemites are expected to join hands and create a human chain along 125th Street tomorrow to protest a sweeping rezoning proposal that could radically alter the face of the neighborhood.

The rezoning, detailed by the Voice in December, would allow developers to build up to 29-stories tall and likely speed the constructions of luxury condos in the rapidly gentrifying area.

While local groups have loudly voiced their opposition at town halls, community board and city planning meetings, tomorrow’s protest marks the first time the Coalition to Save Harlem, a main opponent of the plan, is taking the fight to the streets. “Given the traffic and the interest on the issue, we should gather a good crowd,” says Abdul Kareem Muhammad, a Coalition member.

Meanwhile, Voices of the Everyday People, another Harlem group opposed to the plan, is rushing to gather signatures of property owners near the area of the proposed rezoning. They plan to invoke a little-known part of the city charter that says any rezoning plan opposed by 20 percent of neighboring property owners can only pass if a supermajority of the city council approves it. That means a full three-quarters of the city council would have to vote in favor of the rezoning for it to actually go through. It remains unclear if the tactic will work.

What is clear is that the opposition will employ every weapon at its disposal – petitions, protests, lawyers — in the few remaining days before the city council vote; The rezoning plan could be decided as early as Wednesday, April 16th.

The plan seeks to invigorate the economic development of 125th Street, but critics say it will drive out locally-owned businesses and, ultimately, the historic population of African Americans. The plan does give lip service to preserving the cultural character of the area by creating “distinct signage” and requiring developers to devote a portion of floor space to “qualifying arts and entertainment-related uses.” However, Muhammad calls that “a bone, a crumb.” “That’s saying ‘we’ll bring in a population of rich folk, but you can still have a few singers and dancers in the building.’ That’s of no value to the community.”

A number of groups will participate in Saturday’s protest, including the Coalition to Preserve Community, which has been a main opponent in the Columbia University expansion, and Community Boards 9 and 10. Protesters will gather at 11 a.m. along 125th Street from Broadway to 2nd Ave., join hands at noon to form the human chain, and rally at the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard at 1 p.m.

Says Mohammad: “We hope to have a strong influence next week on the council vote, but the issues we’re talking about will go beyond the vote. It’s about community survival.”