The City Council approved a zoning proposal last week that limits the size of new banks and other large storefronts on the Upper West Side, a step that may be able to help business at some local independent and mom-and-pop stores.
“It’s a very important move; I think it will help the smaller independent businesses and I think it will improve the landscape of the Upper West Side,” said Michael Rosenberg, the owner of Granny Made, located on Amsterdam Avenue between 82nd and 83rd streets.
“Fortunately for Amsterdam, it doesn’t have as many of the banks as the other avenues on the Upper West Side. This will keep them from proliferating.”
The new rules for the Upper West Side Special Enhanced Community District, as Council Member Gale Brewer calls it, require that street-level storefronts on Amsterdam and Columbus avenues be limited to a maximum width of 40 feet, and bank storefronts on those two avenues and Broadway be restricted to 25 feet. Existing banks, including the 29 inside the zoning area and nearly 40 outside it, will not be affected, according to Brewer.
But existing businesses that wish to expand beyond 40 feet are now able to do so through a streamlined certification procedure, a much quicker process than the pre-existing authorization procedure, according to Mark Diller, chair of the Upper West Side’s Community Board 7. The restrictions reach from 72nd to 110th Street on Broadway and Amsterdam and from 72nd to 87th Street on Columbus.
These rules, developed by the City Planning Commission to address requests from Brewer and Community Board 7, passed the City Council with a 49-to-2 vote. Brewer, whose office worked for 11 years to help city agencies understand her district’s needs, said the zoning regulations gained favor in the Council because they are a good fit for the neighborhood.
“One size does not fit all, and I think that’s why it passed,” Brewer said. “Research shows need for this kind of zoning in our neighborhood that won’t fit elsewhere.”
Bob Botfeld, a district leader on the Upper West Side, first heard about the proposal when the Department of City Planning made a presentation to the City Council’s land use subcommittee about the matter about a year ago. Since then, he has passed around petitions and gained support from many local business owners for the zoning changes, he said. Botfeld was relieved to hear that the proposal was passed.
“It is an experiment, and I think it rewards the community for all the effort and reinforces the sense of community,” Botfeld said.
Mark Diller, chair of Community Board 7, which had long advocated for this change, said that the proposal is an important first step in helping Upper West Side small businesses and attracting pedestrian traffic.
“Using broad expanses of our avenues for single storefronts not only kills the retail experience,” Diller said, “it kills the experience of passerby to walk down the streets—it essentially uses that very expensive real estate as a billboard. That’s one of the reasons why the banks want it.”
But some believe that the regulation focuses too heavily on banks. The New York Bankers Association told the New York Times that the proposal unfairly targets and discriminates against banks, as well as interferes with federal and state banking regulations. A representative from the association did not return calls for comment.
But Brewer doesn’t know why banks are concerned now—she said the same regulations have been in place on 125th Street for two or three years, and she hadn’t heard any outcry from banks.
Diller also thinks that banks’ backlash against this proposal is unnecessary.
“The concern that banks are being unfairly targeted, I don’t think is real,” Diller said. “There is no lack of viability for banks. A better question to ask is why so many banks are trying to open.”
But Ira Goller, the owner of Murray’s Sturgeon Shop on Broadway at 89th Street, doesn’t think that the proposal’s emphasis on regulations for banks will help his business.
“A bank doesn’t affect me as a food merchant,” Goller said. “It does affect the diversity of the neighborhood, but I’m more concerned about food stores coming in, [like] Trader Joe’s and Au Bon Pain. Those are the ones that are hurting small business. I’m not sure how banks are hurting my business.”
Diller said that this plan is one policy-based way to sustain local mom-and-pops, but he believes that community residents can also help the business thrive in a practical way.
“The most important thing is to help mom-and-pops is for residents of the Upper West Side to patronize mom-and-pop stores,” Diller said. “Nothing is more important than that. Make sure you buy your paint from Beacon Hardware, and your games from Game Stop on Broadway. [Go to] small stores to buy your kids’ birthday presents. You’re voting with your feet, going to the stores that populate our area.”
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