Melissa Testifies in Support of UWS Retail Streets Proposal

This morning, Melissa spoke at a City Planning Commission hearing in support of the Upper West Side/Manhattan Valley rezoning. The rezoning would protect small businesses in the community and ensure that Amsterdam and Columbus continue to be vibrant streets for shopping. You can read Melissa’s comments below.

Thank you Commissioner Burden and all members of the City Planning Commission, as well as all the members of the public who are here today. I am Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, and I represent part of the Upper West Side north of 96th Street, including Manhattan Valley. I stand today as a strong support of the Upper West Side Retail Streets proposal, and I thank Council Member Brewer for her true leadership on getting City Planning to engage with this proposal as a way of preserving the unique character of the Upper West Side’s retail corridors.

This rezoning proposal will ensure that our avenues on the Upper West Side will continue to support the small business diversity and vibrancy that this neighborhood is known for. The new proposed restrictions on the size of storefronts (including banks) and lobbies will ensure that multiple owners can set up shop on a block and will preserve the vibrant street life that has defined the Upper West Side for years now. Transparency on ground floors in new buildings, required by this proposal, will also make a more interesting, more varied pedestrian experience, and attract more shoppers to the area, further supporting our local small businesses.

As many people here know, the proposal as initially written did not extend into my district on Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues (though it did on Broadway). I joined in the call by local small businesses and local residents alike for Manhattan Valley to be included within the boundaries of these new Special Enhanced Commercial Districts. I want to thank Commissioner Burden, City Planning staff and Community Board 7 for hearing us out and ultimately working out a compromise that included several blocks along Amsterdam that otherwise would not have enjoyed the same protections under this proposal.

The Retail Streets proposal has been crafted following several years’ worth of conversations, extensive research, stakeholder outreach and careful consideration. It will not hurt most businesses. The average store has just a 23 foot-wide storefront, and 90% of stores have frontages of under 40 feet. That means that many stores could double their size, without any problems. Stores could expand upstairs, downstairs, or even around a corner, without a problem. Stores, which would face problems if they didn’t have a frontage greater than 40 feet, can always apply for a waiver from the CPC. But this proposal would not affect existing stores or space, would not limit the size of stores or restrict ownership of stores. This would not apply to supermarkets, schools, or houses of worship, meaning that this would protect small businesses without hurting other uses.

Simply put, this is a fair, well-crafted zoning proposal that will take an important step forward in adding new protections for our Upper West Side retail corridor. It is no surprise to me at all that so many of the businesses on the West Side north of 96th Street have expressed their strong support for this zoning change. I thank them and all of our local community leaders who have gone door-to-door to engage with business owners about this proposal and ask them to express their support.

I again thank Commissioner Burden, Council Member Brewer and CB7 for all of their hard work. I look forward to seeing this proposal advance through ULURP and to cast my vote in support of the zoning change when it reaches the Council.

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