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Broadway Triangle battle reaches Marty’s hearing room

Supporters and opponents of the city’s plan to rezone a huge swath of East Williamsburg clashed at a hearing on Wednesday night at Borough Hall. Opponents claim that the city rigged the process to help two politically connected non-profit groups.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Opponents of the controversial Broadway Triangle rezoning proposal took their case to Borough President Markowitz on Wednesday, arguing that the proposal to build 1,851 housing units was so compromised by a politically corrupt process that it must be tossed.

The plan, which would rezone 31 acres in East Williamsburg to encourage the construction of 905 below-market-rate units, has been surrounded by controversy since the city gave the development rights in a no-bid contract to the United Jewish Organization and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, two groups with deep connections to Brooklyn Democratic Party chair Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Williamsburg).

Critics, who drastically outnumbered the plan’s proponents at the Borough Hall hearing, argued that while the goal of increased affordable housing was laudable, the process had excluded large parts of Williamsburg’s black and Hispanic communities and that the plan itself did not contain enough affordable units.

“It’s not about opposing affordable housing,” said Juan Ramos, chair of the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition. “It’s about the people that love Brooklyn, the people that called this neighborhood home before people wanted to walk on the streets of Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy. It should be an open and clear process.”

The plan is “racially, ethnically, and religiously discriminatory,” added Marty Needelman, also of the opposition group, because half the apartments would have three or four bedrooms. He claimed that this “clearly exhibits racial and religious bias,” because it would cater to large Hasidic families.

The plan’s proponents, however, did not sit idly as a silent minority.

While Rabbi David Niederman defended the involvement of his group, United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

“I have committed a great sin,” said U.J.O. President Rabbi David Niederman, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “For four years, we have been working to successfully develop a plan that nobody can dispute.”

He touted the plan’s affordable housing, saying, “Think to yourself: what are we as a community? What is going to be our answer to the hundreds of families that can’t afford homes?”

As Niederman finished his testimony, boos, along with a few cheers, rang out from the audience, but the hearing never got out of hand, as prior hearings had.

Opponents of the plans held signs reading, “Open the process and stop the rezoning!”

If Markowitz had an opinion, he didn’t reveal one, asking just one clarifying question and reacting to impassioned testimony with only the occasional nod.

Community Board 1 already approved the rezoning, though board members complained of a corrupt process. The Beep has until Thursday, Aug. 13 to submit his recommendation to the City Planning Commission. After that, the city rezoning plan goes to the City Council, where it is expected to be approved. It is supported by the neighborhood’s councilman, David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights), but opposed by a neighboring lawmaker, Diana Reyna (D–Bushwick), who is fighting it after a falling out with her mentor, Lopez.

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