Borough President Marty Markowitz found himself in the middle of a simmering feud between the leaders of two rival Hasidic factions over a troubled Williamsburg waterfront development project this week.
After failing to receive a positive recommendation from Community Board 1 on December 1, representatives of the building applicant made their pitch on Monday to rezone 3.7 acres of the Williamsburg waterfront off Kent and Division avenues to make way for a three-tower, 800-unit mixed use building, known as Rose Plaza, with a promenade down South 11th Street. This time the audience was Markowitz, who tartly dismissed ancillary arguments regarding the political context and history behind the development.
“Your dirty laundry should not be aired in public,” said Markowitz during the December 7 hearing at Borough Hall. “To the outside world, you are one. Ninety percent of Brooklyn does not know what you’re talking about. You guys, someday I pray, you will have to work things out. Happy Hanukkah.”
The building is owned by Certified Lumber’s Isack Rosenberg, a longtime Williamsburg businessman who has developed several projects in South Williamsburg.
Rosenberg is an honorary president of UJCARE, a Williamsburg social services organization that has increasingly competed with the United Jewish Organizations, a 43-year-old Williamsburg-based nonprofit and services provider, for resources and political allies.
Both organizations serve primarily members of the Satmar community, Williamsburg’s largest Hasidic sect, which remains bitterly divided from a 2006 schism, the result of a power struggle between the two surviving heirs of the late-Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum.
This past year, UJO and UJCARE were on opposite sides of two City Council campaigns and Brooklyn’s largest city-owned rezoning project, the Broadway Triangle, in which the UJO is an applicant.
With the Council’s Land Use Committee’s passage of the Broadway Triangle earlier that day on December 7, the fight over property development in South Williamsburg shifted towards the Rose Plaza project.
During the hearing, UJO Executive Director and CB1 member Rabbi David Niederman reiterated his disapproval of the project, citing the community board’s negative recommendation, which passed by an overwhelming margin, and concerns over paucity of three- and four-bedroom units, of which there are only eight.
“Few people living in the community over there will be able to afford this building,” said Niederman. “Unless the communities are being addressed, this project will not go forward.”
Rabbi Leib Glanz, Executive Vice President for UJCARE, however, contrasted the project with the Broadway Triangle, which will ultimately receive public funds for development, in his arguments for Rose Plaza project.
“I am a great supporter of affordable housing,” said Glanz. “It seems to be a double standard. This is private funding for affordable housing and these are people who are willing to give back to the community.”
Regarding affordable housing, Markowitz challenged Howard Weiss, a representative of Rose Plaza LLC, to raise the level of affordable housing above the 20 percent minimum.Weiss, however, argued that a higher level of affordable housing units could endanger the profitability of the project.
“There is no other waterfront project developed on private land that is required to provide more than 20 percent affordable housing,” said Weiss.
Markowitz has 60 days to review the project and make his recommendation before the City Planning Commission will take it up. Rosenberg’s allies believe the reception at the CPC will be more favorable towards the development, though the squabbling within the Satmar sect lingers.
“There are two sides of the (Satmar Hasidic) community and that’s the reason we’re here tonight,” said Moishe Indig a Williamsburg resident and spokesperson of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, one of the heirs to Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum. “It’s unfortunate to say it in public, but its something that we have to take into consideration.”