Brooklyn’s only appointee to the City Planning Commission will be barred from voting on an expected rezoning around the Gowanus Canal because she stands to benefit from it, the city said this week.
Dolly Williams, who was appointed by Borough President Markowitz in 2003, owns land within the boundaries of the neighborhood redesign — a rezoning that will deliver huge windfalls to property owners like Williams.
Questions about a possible conflict of interest emerged after the planning commissioner told acquaintances that she “absolutely” supports the residential redevelopment of the Canal zone. Insiders were quick to point out that Williams’s company, A. Williams Construction, is based on Third Avenue near Sackett Street — an area that will be prime real-estate someday.
“She was working the room,” said one person who attended the Community Board 6 meeting where Williams “was telling everyone that the area would have to be rezoned. She let everyone believe that was speaking as a commissioner, not a property owner who would make millions of dollars if she could build condos on her land.”
After The Brooklyn Paper started asking about Williams’s apparent conflict of interest, the Department of City Planning told Williams that she must recuse herself.
“Like any property owner, however, [the] Commissioner can retain lawyers to represent his or her interests,” added DCP spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff.
Raynoff said that Williams hadn’t broken any rules when she spoke at the public meeting because she was speaking informally in a setting where no formal review was happening.
It’s not the first time that the Markowitz appointee has been told to recuse herself from a vital project.
In 2004, she agreed to sit out of all discussion of Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards mega-development after The Brooklyn Paper outed her $1-million investment in the developer’s Nets basketball team.
“It is not a conflict, otherwise I would not do it,” she told The Paper before she was ordered by the city’s Conflict of Interest Board to step down.
Williams, who receives a $45,131 salary for her City Planning Commission post, did not return numerous phone calls from The Brooklyn Paper, despite a promise to do so.
Activists cheered her recusal this week.
“There is a clear conflict when someone who stands to lose or gain financially from a decision is involved in the decision-making process,” said Brad Lander, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development.
“The commission-makes decision that have significant impact on the value of the land, so it appropriate that property owners not be the city’s neutral decision makers.”
It is unclear whether Williams’s property will remain zoned for industrial use or be included in a residential rezoning. But Williams is not the only property owner eager to remake the gritty truck route.
Last year, one of the city’s biggest luxury developers bought the massive Jewish Press building on Third Avenue between First and Third streets. The developer, Shaya Boymelgreen, plans to build a three-acre complex of rowhouses and apartments called Gowanus Village.
He also needs a rezoning to make his project a reality. Many hope to see at least part of the area remain industrial, so conflicts are inevitable considering how much money is on the table.
“A landowner who wants to sell will get dramatically [more money] for residential use then industrial use,” said Phaedra Thomas, director of Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation.