Department of Housing Assistant Commissioner Champa Chanda barely finished the first sentence of her Broadway Triangle rezoning presentation before more than 100 community residents erupted in repeated chants of “Open process!”, commandeering Tuesday night’s Community Board One meeting for nearly an hour.
The episode was the latest in a long and often contentious battle for control over affordable housing units within the Broadway Triangle, a 31−acre brownfield site in South Williamsburg, which began two and a half years ago when the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Organization and United Jewish Organizations entered into an agreement with city agencies to redevelop the site, angering a collection of community groups who believed they were excluded from the negotiation process.
On May 18, the city’s planning board certified the ULURP process for the rezoning of the site from industrial to residential use, giving the community board 60 days to approve the proposed rezoning. The ULURP Committee will meet on June 21 and the full board will reconvene at a regularly scheduled meeting on July 14 to issue their recommendation on the rezoning application.
At a Broadway Triangle Community Coalition meeting one week ago, coalition leaders Rob Solano, Juan Ramos, and Esteban Duran urged the 200 members assembled to attend Tuesday’s meeting and voice their opinions during the public session. So many community members wound up demonstrating during the meeting that HPD officials were unable to explain their presentation over the raucous noise of the crowd and left before taking questions from the audience.
“As a community board we expect to hear answers to questions directed at business owners and people applying for liquor licences, but HPD didn’t even stay to take answers from Board members, let alone the public,” said Duran, a CB 1 member. “They are blatantly trying to shove this plan down the community’s throat despite there being tremendous opposition.”
Community activists who convened an impromptu press conference on the steps of the Swinging Sixties Senior Center (211 Ainslie Street) afterward said that they were disappointed with the response of community board leaders and city officials who left the meeting without taking questions.
“The number one goal was to shut it down. (District Manager) Gerry Esposito could have had the power to shut it down. It’s up to him to reschedule the meeting,” said Solano, who wanted CB 1 to hold the meeting in a larger space to accommodate his activists.. “As you can see, no one heard the presentation. For them to walk away, it’s incredible.”
Following the meeting, one HPD official, who did not identify himself, said, “Opposition groups sometimes come to community meetings to voice their displeasure but my understanding was that this kind of response from the community was unusual.”
Williamsburg resident Yessenia Alvarez said she attended the meeting because she has seen many of her neighbors move to East New York due to rising rents and a lack of affordable housing in South Williamsburg.
“The ones who stayed live with multiple family members in one apartment,” said Alvarez. “My school, PS 19, used to have 1,000 students. Now we only have 400.”
Other residents, such as Larry Fernandez, a teacher at Automotive High School, was more sympathetic to the rezoning action and supported the city’s plan.
“I thought it was unfortunate those who wanted to hear the proposal couldn’t hear it,” said Fernandez. “I’ll keep attending meetings to learn who has a better detailed plan.”
Councilmember Diana Reyna, who arrived several hours after the demonstrators stalled the meeting, already has her mind made up.
“I want to state for the record, I am not for the city’s plan,” said Reyna. “Whoever does not want me here can vote me out but you will not throw me out. I am supporting my community first before politics.”