It started with rival protests and ended with a shouting match, but when the dust settled, the city’s plan to rezone a wide swath of South Williamsburg for low-income housing scored a major victory on Tuesday night.
North Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 voted 23–12 to support a city proposal to allow two developers to erect 1,851 units of housing units — 905 of which would charge below-market rents — in the 31-acre area of mostly commercial and industrial properties known as the Broadway Triangle.
The vote comes three weeks after CB1’s land use committee supported the rezoning with a number of stipulations.
The convoluted fight over the Triangle — which is bounded by Broadway, Flushing and Union avenues — is as much about planning as it is about power.
Supporters of the city’s proposal say it will provide much-needed units of affordable housing in contextually designed buildings. But opponents, who have drafted their own plan for taller buildings with more units, claim that they were excluded from the planning process.
Such critics also allege corruption between the city, Democratic Party boss and Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Bushwick), and two politically connected neighborhood groups — United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and the Bushwick Ridgewood Senior Citizens Council — that have been given the first crack at coveted affordable housing contracts.
Before Tuesday’s meeting began, both sides clashed on the street in front of the Swingin’ 60s Senior Center, waving banners and shouting at the other side.
Inside, the meeting itself remained tense.
“This zoning action asks you to approve a no-bid land giveaway … before you have had even the opportunity to consider the other planning options,” said Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick), a former Lopez staffer who has turned against her mentor over the controversial rezoning. “We deserve an open process where all ideas are considered.”
Luis Garden Acosta, who says his non-profit El Puente was snubbed when the city shaped the plan, demanded that the board vote down the proposal (though the board vote is only advisory).
“You are the guardians of good government,” he said. “If you allow all of these other vested interests to get between you and your office and your mission, then we don’t have a community that can actually drive its own future.”
Those arguments seemed to resonate with board members who expressed concerns about the lack of public hearings and the no-bid disposition of land.
But supporters of the plan declared that the means justify the ends.
“Yes, the process is very important and it should be transparent or whatever, but there are hundreds of families — 50 percent of them from CB1 — who will have an opportunity to have a roof [over their heads],” said CB1 member Rabbi David Niederman, who leads the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, one of the non-profits that given dibs to develop the land.
“If we say no, what that means is going back to the drawing board,” added Niederman, who recused himself from the close vote. “Let’s not come back 25 years from now and still see the blighted area at the Broadway Triangle.”
When it came time to vote, the board supported its committee’s earlier caveats, which sought a cap on the amount of affordable housing built off-site, guarantees of a “transparent” process to eliminate no-bid contracts, a fund to help relocate affected businesses, and a promise that open space will be created in the area.
But the contentious meeting didn’t end with the vote — it continued in the senior center lobby!
After the decision, CB1 member Simon Weiser — who recused himself from the vote due to his past affiliation with the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg — and Broadway Triangle opponent Roberto Solano exchanged heated words until they were separated by concerned onlookers.
The Broadway Triangle plan will go before the borough president, the City Planning Commission, and finally the City Council — where the city’s proposal has a foe in Reyna, but a friend in Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights), in whose district the triangle sits.