Battle over Broadway Triangle begins in court

The city discriminated against blacks and Latinos during its controversial Broadway Triangle rezoning last year, awarding two politically connected groups no-bid contracts to develop city-owned land, opponents charged in court last week, the opening salvo of a legal battle seeking to derail the plan.

Plaintiffs argued that the city excluded 40 community groups when it gave the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and the United Jewish Organizations the sole right to develop housing on three city-owned lots in the so-called Broadway Triangle, which is roughly bordered by Flushing Avenue, Broadway and Union Avenue in Williamsburg.

“The timeline of events is not in dispute and the timeline shows intent,” said Shekar Krishnan, an attorney representing the 40 groups.

The plans include a disproportionately high level of three- and four-bedroom apartments, which plaintiffs say, was included to appease Williamsburg’s Hasidic community, which tends to have larger family sizes.

Beyond that, plaintiffs charge that the rezoning was undertaken solely to reward the two politically connected groups.

“It is sad that until we got to court, no government agency was willing to overrule the politics and address the outrageous impropriety of the process,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Marty Needelman.

Attorneys representing the city vehemently disagreed, claiming that the plaintiffs did not have data to show that providing larger apartments indicated a racial bias, and that the city awarded the contracts in a faster-than-typical process because there was a state funding deadline.

“The city will be harmed and residents will lose access to affordable housing if the sites are not developed,” said attorney Louise Moed.

The 31-acre site is one of Mayor Bloomberg’s core development projects in his campaign pledge to build more affordable housing.

“We’ve re-imagined what the area could and should be: largely vacant and under-utilized area [transformed] into a thriving new neighborhood,” Bloomberg said, after City Council approved the rezoning by a vote of 36-10 in December.

The legal battle is the latest in a five-year struggle to redevelop the industrial-zoned site north of the former headquarters of Pfizer. After a series of design workshops led by Ridgewood Bushwick, the proposal made its way through the city’s land-use review process last year, garnering approval from Community Board 1, Borough President Markowitz, the City Planning Commission and Council — but the rezoning was halted immediately because opponents filed their lawsuit.

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