Dr. Change-love: Or, how Bushwick’s Councilman learned to stop worrying and love upzoning

Moving up: Knickerbocker Avenue is one of several commercial thoroughfares local pols want to upzone to make room for more below-market-rate housing units.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

He got down with upzoning.

The city should allow developers to build higher along the Bushwick’s commercial corridors, says Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D–Bushwick) — a change of heart for the pol who was championing downzoning as a way to stop luxury towers from taking over the neighborhood two years ago.

But Reynoso now believes development is the way to create below-market housing for long-time locals, who he says are currently fleeing the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

“In Bushwick, we see what happens when a low-income community and a hot housing market collide without a rezoning,” he said in a new report endorsing the mayor’s push to force developers to create so-called “affordable” housing when building on newly rezoned land.

Reynoso’s views shifted after spending the last two years meeting with members of the local community board, activist groups, and fellow Councilman Rafael Espinal (D–Bushwick) to hammer out a rezoning plan for the neighborhood — during which they say the residents identified retail stretches such as Myrtle, Wyckoff, Flushing, and Knickerbocker avenues as places for potential development.

The mayor wants to substantially rezone 15 neighborhoods city-wide in conjunction with his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal — which Council is in the midst of debating — and the pols said they wanted to let locals have a say in what that looks like in case officials came knocking in Bushwick.

“We thought it would be great to have a plan constructed by local community members to present to the administration in the event that they want to rezone Bushwick,” said Espinal.

Espinal says the plan, as it currently stands, is to support upzoning major retail thoroughfares, while keeping currently residential areas low-rise.

Many locals are skeptical of massive rezoning efforts — the city controversially rechristened much of Williamsburg and Greenpoint’s industrial waterfront as a residential area in 2005, which resulted in lots of luxury high-rises, but few developers opting to include below-market housing in exchange for tax breaks.

But Reynoso believes the mayor’s new plan would had avoided the pitfalls of the carrot-and-stick approach.

“We see the need for replacing under-performing voluntary affordable housing programs with mandatory requirements,” he said in his report.

The neighborhood’s community board also backed the DeBlasio’s proposal in November, though many members were worried developers will be able to wriggle out of the requirements too easily.

Reynoso still supports downzoning parts of the neighborhood, said a rep — the goal is ulimately to preserve the character of the neighborhood.

“Downzoning is not necessarily off the table for certain parts of the district,” said Lacey Tauber. “A good plan is probably going to be a mix.”

Locals who want to weigh in on the rezoning plan can attend future public meetings hosted by the pols and activist groups around Bushwick — the pow-wows have been on hold for the past few months, said Tauber, but are slated to start up again in the spring.

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

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