By: ANISHA BERMEJO
Land use—who gets to build what in New York City—is one of the most fraught processes for big time developers pushing for their projects to be built. Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso held a remote Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) public hearing Feb. 17 providing positive recommendations to two widely discussed and controversial development projects in Brooklyn.
This hearing was the third step in ULURP for those two projects: Broadway Triangle, a building of 387 apartments where three neighborhoods—Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant meet and 840 Lorimer Street, a 31,377 square feet apartment building in Greenpoint.
If a developer wants to build, project applications first go through the Department of City Planning, then to the area’s community board. The community board then informs the public on the details of the application, reviews it, recommends changes and then sends it to the borough president for the hearing.
From the borough president, if it meets his or her approval, it goes ultimately to the city council and the mayor.
For each step in the process, applicants submit their proposals for their projects and explain why their developments are worthy enough to change the area’s zoning regulations. At this hearing developers applied for residential rezoning, meaning they’d want to build apartment buildings there.
The Broadway Triangle has been in the works since 2006, with two of the three proposed sites approved in 2019. Original developers, Mega Contracting Group and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, faced serious scrutiny within the community. The Unified Neighborhood Partners (including the St. Nicks Alliance and Los Sures) filed a lawsuit that said that the original development designs favored the Hasidic residents in the area.
They stated that the development would “create dramatic racial disparities and increase existing severe segregation in the area.” They explained that the original plans were going to favor the predominantly white Community District 1, noting that the designs called for exceptionally large apartments — which are typically favored in the Hasidic community — and the city’s choice of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, a group working with the developer. They charged that it neglected Community District 3, which is predominantly Black and Latino.
The lawsuit was settled in 2012 in favor of the UNP, a policy and social change organization who frequently advocate for neighborhood affordability. The organization then began collaborating with the original developers striving to provide 380 deeply affordable housing units on the property. Deeply affordable housing units target applicants that earn 25%-35% of the neighborhood’s median income instead of the usual 50%-60% that other affordable housing buildings ask for. There will be 30% preference in accepting applicants who were previously homeless, something that the neighborhood, which is widely criticized for being overly gentrified with a median income of $53,303, needs.
At this hearing, two representatives of the St. Nicks Alliance Frank Lang and Charlie Stewart, explained the final details and goals of the project. The St. Nicks alliance is a non-profit group in association with the Unified Neighborhood Partners that serves low to moderate income North Brooklyn Residents.
The new goals of the development include, “creat[ing] an integrated neighborhood,” as Lang said, which was met with smiles from Reynoso who when he was in the City Council, was a part of the development’s litigation in changing the development’s designs.
The Lorimer Street development on the other hand is still dealing with further issues.
The main pushback for the ten-story development, which would be used for ground retail and office space as well as about 74 apartment units, is affordability. At the hearing, Reynoso asked representative Richard Lobel about the percentage of units that would be used for affordable housing. Lobel said that at a previous meeting with the district’s community board, one of the recommendations made to the developer was to provide at least 35% affordable housing prices within the units.
“I think that’s a challenging number,” Lobel said. “That number came out– almost like ‘Well the applicant’s getting a lot here. Let’s ask them to do greater affordability.’” He said that the developer owns other buildings that have exceeded the mandatory 24-30% number of affordable housing units in their buildings so, people are expecting them to provide the public with more.
To this, Reynoso agreed with Lobel. “While I would love to see 35% affordability… a ton of requests are being made to this applicant in an effort to satisfy what they would think is a fair application.” He referenced the fact that a building on the same block owned by Jason Property Owners wasn’t required to meet that mark.
The next step for these two developers need is plead their case to the City Planning Commission and finally, the City Council and the mayor, which make the final decision.