Two sides of a Hasidic religious schism traded words in a public hearing Wednesday morning as the City Planning Commission heard testimony over whether a controversial development project, known as Rose Plaza, should be built on the Williamsburg waterfront.
Deep divisions within the Williamsburg-based Hasidic communities have surfaced over Certified Lumber owner Isack Rosenberg’s proposal to develop 801 unit of housing a 3.7-acre site in South Williamsburg (470 Kent Ave.) that happens to be aptly located near Division Avenue.
Rosenberg, a powerful member of the Aaronite faction of the Satmar Hasidic sect, was buoyed by support from several UJCare leaders, including Rabbi Leib Glanz, former Council candidate Isaac Abraham, and UJ Care Executive Board Chair Gary Schlesinger, who testified in support of the Rose Plazaproject.
“Can we continue affordable housing knowing that the numbers are not what we would like the developer to give, even though he is giving what the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning requires, 20 percent?” said Abraham. “We have a developer here who is ready to take the risk, who figures by the time he is finished, there will be demand and the real estate boom will be there.”
That is not how the plan’s opponents, several of whom are aligned with the Zalmanite faction of the Satmar sect, see it. To opponents, including UJO Executive Director Rabbi David Niederman and Community Board 1 member Simon Weiser, the proposal as it is currently written does not include affordable housing at levels above thirty percent or a substantial number of units with three or more bedrooms to accommodate large families living in Williamsburg.
“I relayed the voice of the community board about the apartment sizes and not enough low income housing,” said Weiser. “I know first hand 20 families who were denied (at a different project on Cook Street) because they have more than four children. That’s the need of the four bedroom apartments. The commission learned about this process. Hopefully they will vote no.”
Public officials, including Councilmember Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg), who testified at the hearing, Borough President Marty Markowitz, and Assemblymember Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg) all submitted comments opposing parts of the Rose Plaza rezoning request.
Levin, who spoke publicly on Rose Plaza for the first time, said that he spent hours weighing the possible benefits for the community against its negative impacts and in the end sided with Community Board 1, which disapproved the application by a vote of 31-8.
“This application is asking the Commission to approve a rezoning to R7-3 and number of special permits without, I believe, giving nearly enough public benefit,” said Levin. “On each issue which matters to the community, and which therefore matters to me, this application comes up far short.”
Markowitz, who released his official recommendations on January 6, called for increasing affordable housing in the development from one-fifth to one-third of the floor area and requested that there should be more three- and four-bedroom units if the applicant’s special permit allowing two riverfront towers would proceed.
Despite sharing views with Markowitz’s, Rosenberg’s allies focused much of their ire on Levin and Lopez. Moishe Indig, a UJCare board member, said that Levin refused to meet with Rosenberg and his allies until after the hearing took place and that Levin and Lopez were opposing the project for political reasons.
“The only reason why Niederman, Lopez and Levin are fighting this development is the same reason. It’s because Isack Rosenberg is on the other side,” said Indig. “It’s no reason to take millions of dollars and so many years of work and throw it in the trash. This doesn’t make any sense.”