‘Magnificent seven’ clash

The Brooklyn Paper
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For the second time in as many weeks last Tuesday, the seven candidates hoping to replace David Yassky in the 33rd Council District sat down for a forum and agreed on most issues.

Hosted by the Greenpoint Gazette, Town Square, the Stonewall Democratic Club, and the North Brooklyn Development Corporation, the debate focused solely on issues facing Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

Much discussion centered on the 2005 rezoning and its unfulfilled promises for both affordable housing and parks.

Of the 1,345 low and middle−income apartment units pledged to the city, none have been completed, city officials have conceded in recent published reports. In terms of parkland, a large group of North Brooklyn residents recently presented “Where’s My Park Day,” an event they hoped would call attention to the as−yet­unconstru­cted parkland they said they were promised in the rezoning.

All candidates expressed disappointment in the follow−through of the rezoning, portraying themselves as the candidate who would hold the city accountable to its promises in the future.

Evan Thies proposed creating a penalty that would force the city to repay the community for every month it did not deliver on its promises.

Doug Biviano agreed, and articulated the point with the quote of the night.

“You have to have penalties, severe penalties,” he said. “You get caught with a little marijuana in your pocket, you’re going to jail. You fleece the community out of affordable housing and nothing happens.”

Joanne Simon, along with some other candidates, said she wanted to see inclusionary housing become mandatory rather than voluntary.

Ken Baer cited the need to make so−called “affordable housing” truly affordable by enacting policies aimed at people earning 30 to 40 percent of Area Median Income.

Stephen Levin harped on his experience working for Assemblymember Vito Lopez, chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, saying, “I know how to insure that affordable housing is written into the rezonings.”

Ken Diamondstone and Isaac Abraham also referenced their experience fighting for affordable housing. Diamondstone said he had “produced hundreds upon hundreds of units of affordable housing – I feel very strongly about this.” Abraham cited his 35 years working in the community, as well as his advocacy for affordable housing in the Schaeffer Landing development on Kent Avenue south of the Williamsburg Bridge.

As is often the case at such debates, the most illuminating part came via the yes or no “lighting round,” which is designed to discourage equivocation and padding that often characterizes responses in debates.

For instance, candidates were asked whether they would support “The New Domino,” a multi−building project that would create 2,200 units of housing – 660 of which would be affordable – on the site of the old Domino Sugar refinery between Grand and S. 5th Streets

Abraham unequivocally said “yes.” Thies said yes, “with some changes, but I generally agree with the project.” Simon said “probably, with significant changes.” Levin said, “They’d have to be pretty significant changes. The density is completely out of scale, though I applaud their affordability ratios.” Diamondstone, Biviano, and Baer said “No.”

On 155 West Street, a proposed 640−unit mixed−use development on the Greenpoint waterfront containing a 400−foot−high tower that would contain 140 affordable units, Abraham, Levin, Simon and Thies said they wouldn’t support it because of its height. Baer, Biviano, and Diamondstone said they were not familiar with the project.

And on the controversial subject of the Broadway Triangle, the large tract of land on the border of Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedford−­Stuyvesant set to be rezoned from manufacturing into residential mixed−use, all candidates except Levin expressed deep misgivings about the process that has gone into the rezoning’s formulation.

Opponents characterized this process as exclusionary and politically motivated. Thies referred to it as “one of the worst shams of a process I’ve seen working in the City Council or in the community.”

Levin said the plan put forth by HPD “prioritizes affordable housing creation. That’s essentially the most important piece of the rezoning.”

The plan, which is set to come before Community Board 1 next month, calls for 1,850 units of housing, around 950 of which would be affordable, along with 100,000 square feet of retail space and 35,500 square feet of community facility space.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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