Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Taller buildings may be welcome in this Brooklyn nabe 

Most New York City developers face stiff opposition to building taller buildings, but oddly enough, a Brooklyn firm proposing a complex on the borders of Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick could have just the opposite problem.

Simon Dushinsky's Rabsky Group is seeking permission from the city to build a series of eight buildings holding a total of 777 apartments to the north and south of Wallabout Street, between Union and Harrison streets, according to Department of City Planning documents. The project is expected to include 155 affordable apartments, a half-acre park and 30,000 square feet of retail.

In most neighborhoods, such a project would spark opposition because of its large size. But it could turn out to be a different story in the Broadway Triangle—a swath of former and current industrial property bounded by Broadway, and Union and Flushing avenues. There, a collection of community groups have long been calling for bigger buildings with the idea of creating more affordable housing. 

"You could build 60 stories [at that site]. You could build enough affordable housing to accommodate everybody," Martin Needleman, an attorney for Broadway Triangle Coalition, said about the neighborhood at a January rally, according to Bedford+Bowery.

In this case Mr. Dushinsky, who could not be reached for comment, will seek to rezone two blocks for residential buildings no taller than 10 stories in what could prove to be an unusual public review process. The Broadway Triangle has been a hotbed of controversy since 2009, when the city rezoned a strip of land near the proposed development.

Critics—who hoped to see market-rate and affordable housing units built on both city- and privately-owned sites—have argued that the rezoning discriminates against black and Hispanic communities and favors a portion of the Hasidic community. Their qualms include giving priority to a particular community board's district for the planned affordable units, selecting developers without a bidding process, and allowing for shorter buildings with larger apartments to favor Hasidic families. (Some will not ride in an elevator on the Sabbath, or will only use an elevator that stops on every floor so they don't have to press the buttons, making tall buildings impractical for them.)

Other organizations have called those charges anti-Semitic, and the city has argued it acted properly throughout the process. The case is still ongoing, but in 2012 a judge stopped development on three public sites and noted that the city likely violated the Fair Housing Act.

Even though the proposed development does not lie within the city's contested 2009 zoning, it is within the Broadway Triangle, and could prove a point of contention.

The Broadway Triangle is made up of sites such as Mr. Dushinsky's that are zoned for manufacturing, or parcels within the city's 2009 rezoning, where buildings top out at eight stories.

But Shekar Krishnan, another lawyer for the Broadway Triangle Coalition, argued in an interview with Crain's that rezoning the entire triangle for greater density would better align with Mayor Bill de Blasio's goal of building 80,000 affordable apartments by 2024.

"The mayor's affordable housing plan is entirely consistent with what the coalition wants: Building high and denser near a transit hub," he said.

On the other hand, City Councilman Stephen Levin, the local representative for Broadway Triangle, will likely have the ultimate say in what Mr. Dushinsky's application ends up looking like. And unlike the coalition, he has long supported the density and context of the 2009 rezoning.

Mr. Levin could not be reached for comment on the proposed development. Mr. Dushinsky's application will soon make its first stop in the public review process at Brooklyn's Community Board 1.

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