The city’s bid to rezone a large chunk of Harlem will increase the development potential of at least 50 properties owned by a motley collection of landlords—some of whom may be less than deserving of a big payday. A Manhattan community board is set to weigh in this month on the East Harlem rezoning plan, which will boost the allowable size of buildings along certain corridors of a 96-block area.

The change could create as many as 3,500 new apartments if the City Council signs off on the plan by the end of the year. The initiative is meant to both jump-start new construction and influence the scope of projects that likely would have happened even without rezoning. All developers who receive a density boost will be required to include affordable housing in their new projects.

Recasting a neighborhood in this way can often deliver big benefits to longtime owners who have stuck with the area during less prosperous times. But a...

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