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Contested Sunset Park rezoning gets go-ahead from local Councilmember

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The rezoning will allow a 14-story, 135-unit building on a site currently occupied by a Dunkin' Donuts.
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A developer’s plan to erect a 14-story, 135-unit apartment building on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park got a major boost on Tuesday, as the area’s city council member gave his go-ahead for the building’s contested rezoning.

Speaking during a council subcommittee meeting, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca acknowledged concerns from some activists looking for more apartments to be earmarked as “affordable” — but ultimately gave his blessing, as the structure will contain around 33 below-market-rate units.

“This proposal is not perfect,” he said of the planned building between 24th and 25th streets. “It will not, for instance, build 100 percent affordable, which I believe we need to do here in the city of New York, but it does represent the clearest example of one of the only things that will break the cycles of displacement and gentrification forever — community-driven and accountable development.”

Menchaca’s support of the proposal is all but essential for it to pass the full council vote due to the unwritten practice of “member deference,” wherein city legislators largely follow the lead of  the council member that represents the area where the planned rezoning lies on land use issues.  

Of the 33 affordable housing units in the building, developer Totem has pledged to target either 12 or 13 apartments to families and individuals making 30 percent of the Area’s Median Income, while the remaining units will target 60 percent of the AMI — coming to a total average of 46 percent of AMI, which is lower than the legally mandated 60 percent under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program.

The developer, at the request of the community, also agreed to not include any of the affordable units as studio apartments to better serve families. As a result, the affordable housing units will range from a one-bedroom apartment at $503 monthly to a three bedroom unit at $1,658.

“We have worked closely with the community to design a project that helps meet the needs of long-time Sunset Park residents and also works to address the city’s critical housing shortage,” said Vivian Liao, a Principal at Totem. “This project and the broad-reaching community benefits agreement that we have signed alongside several community groups is an example of how privately-led development can keep local needs at the heart of their work.”

The legally-binding community benefits agreement signed with the developer also provides other guarantees on top of the affordable housing units, such as a pledge not to turn the development into a homeless shelter, the inclusion of a large bike-storage facility by local business Oonee Pod, and the setting-aside of an easement to add an elevator to the 25th Street subway station.

Some in the neighborhood called for more affordable units in the project, which representatives for the development team said could not happen without government subsidies, which they were unable to get. Other critics, including Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes, slammed the proposal as luxury housing and a driver of gentrification. 

Sunset Park faces a dire housing crisis, as documented in a recent report by the Fifth Avenue Committee, which found that the neighborhood has actually lost more housing units than it has created since 2014, while its population has ballooned during the same period due to continued immigration, and the arrival of those priced out of neighborhoods like Park Slope. 

The Fifth Avenue Committee has been supportive of the Fourth Avenue project, and will play a role in helping community residents access the affordable housing lottery to obtain units in the building. 

Menchaca, who is also running for mayor, repeatedly stressed that he felt the development team had done adequate outreach in the lead-up to the rezoning, and that the end result was emblematic of that community-driven planning process. 

“I see this rezoning as an example of yet another development which has come to terms with community control and accountability,” he said. “I know others will disagree.”

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