Tensions Rise Amid Uncertain Timeline for Public Review of Bushwick Rezoning
December 2, 2019
By Sadef Ali Kully
The de Blasio administration’s environmental impact statement (EIS) on its proposed Bushwick rezoning is due to be released in the coming months, according to the Department of City Planning–though there is no specific public release date.
Brooklyn’s Community Board 4 said they have reached out to DCP to have another meeting prior to the release of EIS. But DCP tells City Limits the agency declined to meet at the time, but promised to keep the board informed.*
That’s not the only tension as the city steers toward the seventh neighborhood rezoning under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan, which aims to densify sections of the city in order to increase the housing supply–both the amount of income-targeted “affordable” housing and the number of market-rate units.
So far, East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, Jerome Avenue, Bay Street and Inwood have been rezoned. In addition to Bushwick, Gowanus and Southern Boulevard also face pending proposals.
Bushwick’s rezoning proposal came after a group of local stakeholders, including Board 4, generated their own blueprint for rezoning the neighborhood. The mayor’s proposal differs in significant ways from the Bushwick Community Plan.
Last week, a protest group that opposes any rezoning interrupted a forum about open space in three city neighborhoods to lambast two Councilmembers, Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal, who helped craft the Community Plan. The protesters, who were allowed to state their case, said the rezoning “will increase our rents and accelerate displacement of families, especially families of color.”
Despite the protestors saying Reynoso and Espinal as Councilmembers are “selling out [Bushwick] to rich developers” by supporting a rezoning that could cause displacement, Reynoso said he understood the anger and distrust that was coming from a generation that has witnessed the displacement of minority families.
“The history of how we have done these rezonings, the process by which the city goes about ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), and getting community investments only through development–they have a whole history of data that shows rezonings don’t work in these communities and a whole history of elected officials and backroom deals,” said Reynoso. “It’s hard for them to believe any elected official could be genuine in looking out for the interests of their communities. I want you to know their voices are important and I am glad they were able to finish what they were saying. They have real fears.”
The protesters, however, didn’t stick around long enough to hear anyone’s response to their arguments.
Reynoso indicated that the rezoning might not occur, saying he would stand with “the community” and walk away from the deal if it fails to satisfy them. Under the Council’s custom of member deference to local reps on land-use matters, a “no” vote from Reynoso could torpedo the plan–although the fact that another Councilmember, Espinal, also represents part of the rezoning area, also helped shape the Community Plan and also is running for Brooklyn borough president could complicate the calculus.
Espinal was scheduled to appear at the same panel, but declined to attend, citing an issue in his district.
The panel was held after a report by New Yorkers for Parks pointed out a need for more open space in Bushwick, saying the neighborhood failed to meet 12 out of the 14 open-space goals such as access, tree canopy coverage and overall maintenance.
The rezoning study area is an approximately 300-block or 1,300-acre area of Bushwick bounded by Wyckoff Avenue and Irving Avenue to the north, Moffat and Vanderveer streets to the east, Broadway to the south, and Flushing Avenue to the west.
The city has proposed midblock preservation on side streets to be zoned for R5B and R6B, where the height will be capped between three and four stories, depending on the floor area ratio, in order to preserve existing character of the neighborhood. Those midblocks make up an estimated 70 percent of the rezoning study area. Other more commercial streets such as Central, Wilson and Knickerbocker would add density including affordable housing and room for commercial use. The city proposes those avenues to be zoned for R6A and R7A, which would allow for building heights to reach between seven to eight stories.
Along transit corridors Broadway, Myrtle and Wyckoff avenues, the city aims to promote higher density and mixed-use development (which includes residential, commercial and industrial). The greatest density would be Broadway, where heights could reach from 11 stories to 16 stories maximum; on Myrtle Avenue heights could reach from nine to 13 stories by the elevated trains, according to DCP. Along industrial areas, Wyckoff and Flushing avenues in the northwest and Wyckoff Avenue and Moffat Street in the east, DCP has said in its April presentation they wanted to preserve the use of the area but also put in height limitations and eliminate parking requirements.
DCP projects the city’s proposed rezoning of Bushwick could lead to an increase of 5,613 units of housing, which includes 1,873 permanently affordable housing units–although the income levels for those units have yet to be defined. The area could also see an additional 17,849 residents and 6,116 workers in the neighborhood over the next 10 years, according to draft scope, a document describing the details of a land-use action and outlining the methods the city will use to study the project’s potential impacts, which will be further detailed in the EIS.
Although most of the city’s proposal is in line with the Community Plan, there are some sticking points. Reynoso and Espinal do not agree with the city’s proposal for its manufacturing districts and other steering committee members would like to see more robust capital investments such as academic resources and more open spaces to be included within the proposal.
Reynoso has complained in past interviews with City Limits that the city does not appear to have any plan to help manufacturing jobs and districts thrive in other communities. He has said that while the rezoning is up for discussion, he has put a moratorium in approving any major development projects in the Bushwick neighborhood of his district.
Community Board Chair Robert Camacho said it was vital to keep the conversation between the city and the community board ongoing. “We have not really met with them since the summer presentation in May. We have to know what is going on in our community and on the city’s end in order to be a working and helpful community board.”
The worry for the Community Board 4 is that once the EIS has been released and then certified, the ULURP clock begins to move quickly and the window for discussing issues in the city’s rezoning proposal becomes smaller and smaller. Camacho said residents want to see a rezoning that protects them and makes much-needed capital investments in an often overlooked community.
The protest at the parks panel was organized by Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, an artist activist group that vehemently opposes rezonings — not just in Bushwick but across the city. It has joined a larger coalition which is floating an online petition with other anti-rezoning and anti-gentrification groups calling for a moratorium on the upcoming Bushwick rezoning proposal.
At the panel, Reynoso blamed the tension on a process that has failed communities and sown distrust.
“There is no process that we can have over the next two years that is going to be a process that is going to bring about meaningful participation from the ground up that won’t have this contention,” he said. “Right now, I want to do exactly what the community wants, the city will not do it. They are going to just shut [the rezoning] down. And I am ok with that too but I am going to do what the community wants, and if you don’t play ball with them — they are just going to walk away.”
BCP steering committee member and Churches United for Fair Housing network director Alex Fennell says it is critical the community does not become complacent, but rather continues to advocate on behalf of what the community’s needs, in the rezoning and beyond.
“The community plan asked for these big sections of the mid-blocks which are predominantly single- and two-family homes. On blocks, where the majority of the homes are lower density, we want those to stay lower density,” said Fennell. “Our plan is focused on preserving the mid-blocks and it was always one of the highest priority. The city has plans for higher density. The process with the city is transactional and once the city certifies the proposal, that train is on the track.”
Correction: The original version of this story indicated DCP had no record of a request from CB4 for a meeting. In fact, DCP did received that request but declined it.
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