Bushwick residents: Don’t let Rheingold fiasco happen again!

Bushwickans: Rezoning for development is fool’s Rhein-gold
Herrick Feinstein LLP

The city must ensure developers can’t weasel out of a proposal that would require them to create below-market-rate housing when building on rezoned land, says a panel of Bushwickians that tentatively okayed the scheme on Wednesday night.

Locals are still angry after the developers of the derelict Rheingold brewery on Flushing Avenue were able to blow off a promise to include below-market units in the property with no consequences, and said they don’t want to see that happen again.

“The Rheingold is such a terrible precedent,” said Anne Guiney, a member the Community Board 4’s housing and land use committee, who voted to support the plan. “I think that has made everybody very, very cautious and concerned, specifically about enforcement.”

Board members voted 17–11 to approve Mayor DeBlasio’s so-called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing scheme — which would require developers looking to rezone land so they can erect big buildings to set aside at least 25 percent of units for so-called “affordable” housing — but on the condition that the city find an air-tight way to police the program to prevent fiascos like the Rheingold redevelopment.

In that case, the city agreed to rezone the old brewery site for residential high-rises in 2013, after owner Read Property Group signed a pledge to include hundreds of below-market units in the new towers there. But Read then sold land to two other real estate companies earlier this year, both of which have refused to make the same commitment and aren’t beholden to the original agreement.

City reps claimed that they are already working on an enforcement strategy and will have one set in stone by the time the new rule takes effect, or not long after.

“These rules are not just on paper,” said city planner Jennifer Gravel. “They’re real. We want them to be respected.”

The board also demanded the city lower the income bracket the below-market units will be slated for — the current policy earmarks them for households earning roughly $40,000 to $50,000 a year, but the locals said $25,000 to $35,000 would be more of a help to Bushwick residents.

“What about the people in this community earning $20,000 to $30,000?” said board treasurer Gladys Puggler, who voted against the plan. “Are they going to be homeless and living in the street?”

The planning spokespeople said they could only price the units so low without dissuading developers from building altogether, but that other programs would take care of lower-income residents applying to live in the new developments.

The reps cited the law known as 421–a, which gives tax breaks to developers in exchange for below-market-rate units — though that scheme still only allocates a portion for people earning in the $20,000 to $30,000 range and assigns a larger number to people making more than that.

The panel also voted 27–1 to approve a separate but related proposal that would allow developers to construct taller buildings in medium and high-density areas — especially when building below-market or senior housing — but with several recommendations, including slightly lower height allowances.

Community Board 4 was one of several boards that voted on the two proposals this week. Boards in East New York, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, and Marine Park and Canarsie voted against both plans. And Community Board 7 — which covers Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace — voted down on the upzoning, but couldn’t cobble together enough of a majority for either side on the mandatory below-market policy to vote definitively.

But at the end of the day, the community boards’ votes and recommendations are entirely advisory — the Council will ultimately decide whether to approve the proposals or not.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.