The city’s contentious plan to allow residential development inside the largely commercial “Broadway Triangle” was rubber-stamped by the City Planning Commission on Monday, as commissioners said that the project’s ends — affordable housing — justified the sometimes ugly means that were involved in drafting the plan.
The commission voted 11-1 for the rezoning — which promises 1,851 new apartments, 850 of them pegged at below-market rates — despite months of protests over the city’s decision to grant development rights to two politically connected groups. Commissioners said the urgent need for affordable housing trumped complaints from a coalition of 40 community groups that claimed that the community’s voice was not heard in the rush to give control to the two non-profits.
“Affordable housing is an ongoing need in this city [that] I need to support,” said commission Vice Chairman Kenneth Knuckles.
Other commissioners said the rezoning would also encourage the construction of contextual low-rise buildings, create open space and boost local economic development in a dour area bounded by Broadway, Flushing and Union avenues.
Opponents say they were snubbed by the city when no-bid contracts went to the United Jewish Organization and the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, two groups tied to the borough’s Democratic Party boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick).
The opponents have sued, deeming the city’s planned rezoning “racially and religiously discriminatory” against Latinos and blacks in favor of South Williamsburg’s Hasidic community. The suit, filed last month in Supreme Court, argues that the politically corrupt process cut out dozens of community groups from participating in plans to convert 31 acres of former industrial land in East Williamsburg into a mixed-income community with large portions reserved for below-market-rate housing.
Those opponents support a different plan for the Triangle, one that would allow taller, Hasidic-unfriendly buildings comprising 3,731 units, 1,800 of them below-market rate.
But concerns about the exclusion of neighborhood groups and the city’s possible use of eminent domain to relocate small businesses convinced only one commissioner to vote against the rezoning.
“The process to include all organizations should not be overlooked,” said the lone naysayer, Commissioner Karen Phillips. “We need affordable housing, but we need economic stability guaranteed in the area. With the problems raised by this issue I cannot support it.”
Opponents were disappointed, but not surprised by Monday’s outcome.
“[The commissioners] acquiesced to political pressure,” said Martin S. Needleman, a lawyer fighting the plan, which will now move to an expected approval in the City Council, which typically defers to local councilmembers on land-use issues.
Councilman David Yassky, in whose district the Broadway Triangle is located, supports the project. Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick) opposes it, though her opposition could partly be attributed to a falling-out she had with her former protege Lopez several years ago.