Why the Proposed Contextual Zoning is a Bad Idea
There is a proposal afoot to try to have Morningside Heights designated by the City as an area under Contextual Zoning. In essence, this would require short, blocky buildings with continuous street walls and restrict free-standing towers.
There are eight basic problems with Contextual Zoning:
1.Contextual Zoning would have prevented some of the neighborhood's best buildings, like Riverside Church, St. John the Divine, Notre Dame, and the Christian Science Church.
2.Contextual Zoning would not have prevented some of the neighborhood's worst buildings, like Carman Hall, Interchurch Center, Lerner Hall, the new part of St. Luke's Hospital, and the Center for Jewish Student Life.
3.Morningside Heights will eventually be designated an official Historic District, which carries with it stronger and more flexible protections which actually could have worked in 1. and 2. above.
4.Contextual Zoning can be rigid and restrictive and does not always make sense in individual cases.
5.Contextual zoning requires setbacks that are inconsistent with the existing fabric of the neighborhood.
6.Contextual Zoning as proposed would be floor-area neutral, meaning that it would not reduce the quantity of space that could be built here, only rearrange it. It is therefore not an effective tool for opposing gentrification north of 125th St.
7.Contextual Zoning will require a $75,000 planning study.
Criticism has come up about the Harlem Community Development Corporation,
(HCDC) which is being proposed as the principal source of the $75,000 needed
for the study to impose Contextual Zoning. It seems that this corporation
is a corrupt patronage toy of Gov. Pataki and as such does not have a good
reputation in the Upper Manhattan community. It may be unwise to get
entangled in this web of Republican quid-pro-quos and suspect financial
If you find yourself in agreement, please print out this poster (MSWord) and put it up in your building or elsewhere that people will see it.
The Case for Contextual Zoning
Map of Neighborhood Zoning as it is today