Williamsburg, Greenpoint residents spread anti-rezoning gospel


A group of anti-gentrification evangelists from Williamsburg and Greenpoint are on a mission to warn other New York City communities about the potential evils of rezoning.

The planning-policy proselytizers have been visiting community boards in neighborhoods that are facing rezoning akin to the one the city passed in the two northern neighborhoods a decade ago. That rezoning turned their area into an overcrowded playground for the rich, say group members, and it should serve as a prophecy for other communities in the same situation.

“We are the canary in the coal mine,” said Jens Rasmussen, a member of community group Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park. “We are telling them, ‘You want to know what this will look like? Come to Williamsburg and Greenpoint, and we will show you where our friends were forced out because of rising rents and where we have not gotten the promised job retention or open space.’ ”

The group went to testify to Community Board 5, which services East New York and Cypress Hills, last week and it plans to take its crusade to Prospect Lefferts Gardens and some neighborhoods in the Bronx in the coming weeks.

“We are letting them know that the city has a history of not following through with its promises and communities should be wary of how they deal with them,” said Williamsburg resident Janos Marton, who has been arranging the field trips.

When the city rezoned Williamsburg and Greenpoint in 2005, it went ahead despite the opposition of Community Board 1 and many neighborhood residents. But the anti-development apostles say there are still ways their would-be disciples can learn from their experiences, even if the rezoning passes.

For instance, they should ensure the city makes good on any perks it promises residents before the rezoning goes ahead, said group member Kim Fraser. In 2005, the city promised to create a park the size of about 21 football fields along the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfront, in addition to allowing developers to build thousands of new apartments. The towers went up, and new residents came in, but locals are still fighting the city to buy more land and complete Bushwick Inlet Park, which is currently the size of about five football fields. Other neighborhoods should take heed, Fraser said.

“I told them that if they need anything for their communities, you make them do that first,” she said. “None of this bait-and-switch that we got.”

Community Board 5 members said they were grateful to these good Samaritans for spreading the word about their experiences.

“I think it is great that they came to see us,” said district manager Walter Campbell. “People should talk to others about what they have gone through.”

The community board will vote on the rezoning sometime this summer, said Campbell.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.