The most important issue in the race for Williamsburg and Bushwick’s 34th Council District isn’t even in the 34th Council District.
And, believe it or not, that’s an issue in itself.
In a battle against her former mentor, incumbent Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Williamsburg) has gone outside of her district to make an issue of the city’s controversial plan to allow mid-rise residential development in the Broadway Triangle — a largely industrial 31-acre swath of land in the neighboring 33rd Council District.
In the process, she has crafted a political litmus test for her competitors.
Reyna reviles the rezoning — which has the blessing of her former boss, Democratic Party chairman and Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick) — because the no-bid contracts that the city issued to two politically connected non-profit groups gave those Lopez-linked organizations control of land bounded by Broadway and Flushing, Union and Harrison avenues.
“Community groups [with] a track record of developing and preserving affordable housing … are angry that they have been left out,” said Reyna, who is seeking her third term. “Whatever is built there impacts them. It will either include them or leave them behind.”
Instead of supporting the city’s plan to encourage the development of 1,851 units of mid-rise housing — almost half of them charging below-market-rate rents — she favors an alternate plan backed by a coalition of snubbed community groups that calls for high-rise buildings with as many as 3,731 new residential units — 1,800 of them affordable — on a larger site that also includes a plot owned by the drug-maker Pfizer.
Reyna’s Lopez-endorsed rival, Maritza Davila, says the Broadway Triangle isn’t relevant to the campaign — even though she works for a non-profit that stands to benefit from the project.
“I am focusing all of my energy, as I have been for the past 20 years, on affordable housing, education, and economic development issues in the 34th Council District,” said Davila, a staffer at the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, which, alongside the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, has been granted preliminary site control of land inside the Broadway Triangle.
“Unlike the current Councilmember, I am not interested in spending all of my time and energy outside of my area, as I feel it does a huge disservice to the residents of the 34th District,” she added in her prepared statement. “My priority and my commitment is to my constituents.”
A third candidate — longtime CB1 District Manager Gerry Esposito — favors the city’s plan over the alternative proposal.
After two tumultuous hearings, Esposito’s board voted in favor of the plan with stipulations seeking a cap on the amount of affordable housing built off-site, guarantees of a “transparent” process to eliminate no-bid contracts, a fund to help relocate affected businesses, and a promise that open space will be created in the area. Though his job didn’t allow him to vote at the controversial hearing, Esposito told The Brooklyn Paper that the city’s Broadway Triangle proposal is better than the “pipe dream” that Reyna supports.
“[The city’s plan] is acceptable, certainly with the recommendations that we formulated at the community board,” said Esposito. “The sad thing is that the whole controversy appears to be an election-year ploy to generate publicity for the incumbent.”
Though the fate of the Broadway Triangle will likely be decided before a new councilmember takes office, Esposito hypothesized that he would be open to entertaining other ideas for the site — so long as they were realistic.
“At the City Council, you can amend the plan,” he said. “I’d like to hear what the options are. If someone is putting together something that is viable, it is certainly something that as councilmember I would listen to. Nothing in government should be cast in stone.”
©2009 Community News Group
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