Last call! Promised below-market housing could die at Rheingold site

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

Bushwick residents are demanding the new developer of a portion of the old Rheingold brewery deliver on the promises of below-market housing and money for schools and parks that previous developers — who needed a zoning change to get the job going — had pledged to provide.

Rabsky Group, a Williamsburg-based developer, purchased an entire block of the Rheingold land from the Read Property Group earlier this year and has since refused to meet with politicians or anyone community members to confirm that they will follow through with the same amount of “affordable” housing that Read promised. Now, activists say they believe they were sold a pig in a poke.

“We are trying to get some open communication with them and some responsiveness from them, and they are giving us nothing,” said Bushwickan Brigette Blood.

Read purchased the property and presented a plan for the 10 eight-story buildings over five blocks in the industrial section of the neighborhood in 2013. The city granted the project a zoning variance based on a signed letter saying that the company committed to renting 242 of it 977 residential units ∏— or nearly 25 percent — at below market rates.

The letter also promised seven lots for a non-profit company to turn into housing for old folks, $360,000 for upgrades to nearby elementary schools PS 120 and PS 145, and $350,000 for sprucing up Green Central Knoll Park.

But the letter and accompanying promises aren’t worth the paper that are printed on, as they are not legally binding — so the new owner is not required to honor the commitments.

The heads of Rabsky have not showed up for any meetings themselves, but in one case sent a rabbi in their stead.

The group led by Blood posted a petition on Charge.org demanding that the developer sign a letter of agreement committing to the rate of same “affordable” housing to which Read agreed, but, of course, that petition will also not be legally binding. Still, Blood says they have to try something.

“We need to get the word out there any way we can about what is happening here,” she said.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso has also been trying to meet with the Rabsky officials, but has had no success.

“I support the community and I feel strongly that the property owner, no matter who it is, must honor the commitments made during the approval of this development,” said the councilman.

Read officials said the company plans to honor its below market housing promise on the plots that it still owns.

The person who answered the phone at Rabsky hung up on a reporter, and officials did not respond to e-mail requests for comments.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
Applying pressure: Bushwick activist Brigette Blood hopes to convince the new owner of a block’s worth of the planned Rheingold development to stick to the original promise of offering 25 percent of units to be below-market-rate housing. The owner is not legally bound to offer any.
Photo by Jason Speakman