Shapeshifting

The rezoning succeeded at the Land Use Committee yesterday with one small change: the empty lot at right could become either affordable housing or a park. Pfizer looms in the background.
Matt Chaban

After decades of neglect and an epic community battle, the 31-acre swath of north Brooklyn known as the Broadway Triangle may finally be taking shape. At a hearing today before the City Council’s land-use committee, councilmember Diana Reyna—whose district borders but does not include the Triangle—came within one vote of convincing her colleagues to scuttle a long-simmering plan to rezone the area. But with the plan’s passage by a vote of 12–6, the rezoning will likely succeed on Wednesday, when it goes before the full council for a vote.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development took the lead on rezoning the Triangle, as it controls a number of city-owned sites that will be turned into affordable housing when the plan goes through. Those sites, however, have become a flashpoint for the plan, as two politically connected groups, the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Center Council, were selected by the department as the sole developers of city-owned land.

Their projects will create roughly 650 units of affordable housing, while another 250 are expected through the inclusionary zoning program, which provides developers incentives to make 20 percent of their projects affordable.

Forty community groups from the Black, Latino, and Jewish communities joined together to oppose the plan, also taking issue with the exclusion of residents from a neighboring community board, across Flushing Avenue, the southern boundary of the Triangle, which is bounded to the north by Broadway and to the west by Union Avenue.

With the help of former planning commissioner Ron Shiffman and students at the Pratt Institute, they devised their own plan that called for a much higher density in the area, creating three times as much affordable housing, though the plan was deemed out of context by Community Board 1, which reluctantly supported the city’s plan.

“There were a lot of passionate views on all sides,” Daniel Garodnick said in an interview after the vote. “But ultimately, I voted on the considerable merits of the plan, of the many affordable housing units, and that was meaningful to me.” Gardonick did echo complaints about process, chastising the city for selecting its developers behind closed doors.

A small modification was made to the plan, allowing for more open space on a city-owned site, which the community had been clamoring for, but it is at the cost of 45 affordable housing units, also in desperate need. "We are well below average in both areas," Reyna complained. "This is no plan at all."

While the vote of 12–6, with one abstention, may not seem close, any measure requires a majority of the committee’s 23 members to pass (four were absent). “In my eight years on the committee, I can’t remember anything this close,” councilmember Tony Avella said afterward. “Usually, these things pass unanimously, or there is maybe one or two votes against.”

Still, it was the city’s closed process that drew the most complaints from those voting against the plan. “Process is important, and the process here is very troubling, and we as a body have to come together to address this,” councilmember Rosie Mendes said. One committee member, Vincent Ignizio, opposed the plan because the city plans to use eminent domain, which he said “haunts this council and this nation.”

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