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Development expert slams 25 Kent rezoning

False profit! Office buildings aren’t the promised savior of industrial Williamsburg, sez expert

In labor: Developers want special permission to stick this office building in a manufacturing area.
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Call it a messiah office complex.

The city is trying to swindle Williamsburgers into surrendering the neighborhood’s industrial land to office developments by claiming it is the only way to save factories from becoming hotels and nightclubs, says an expert in blue-collar building. But it is a false choice, says the guru, when the far simpler solution is just to ban new hotels and nightclubs.

“City Planning should fix the decades-old hotel problem,” said Adam Friedman, director of Pratt University’s Center for Community Development, who shot down the city’s scheme before Community Board 1’s land-use committee on Wednesday. “The community has been asking for limits on hotel — for the community to now be told that the City is testing an office strategy without any study and without dealing with the hotel issue is rubbing salt in the wound.”

The committee ultimately voted 6–3 with one abstention and two recusals to approve the zoning change that would allow Toby Moskowitz’s to erect an eight-story office building at Kent Street and West Avenue with a handful of recommendations — such as measures that would guarantee the development’s affordability for local businesses — kicking off a the project’s lengthy public review process.

City Planning officials say Moskowitz — a member of Community Board 1 — should be allowed to skirt the area’s zoning rules because she’s promising to dedicate a sliver of space in the property to light manufacturing, such as bakeries or woodworking studios.

During the past decade, Williamsburg’s so-called Industrial Business Zone has been overrun by new entertainment venues — which can pay top dollar for buildings but create relatively few jobs — and proponents see this project as a way to entice developers to build business hubs in the area again.

“Manufactur­ing complexes have been taken over by these other uses, and this is trying to get some of that back,” said Ray Levin, a lawyer for the developer.

In fact, officials are so enthusiastic about the idea, they’re pitching a companion bill that would allow any developer to build similar cubicle complexes within a 14-block radius around the site.

But Friedman — who specializes in manufacturing development at the Clinton Hill college — says it will do nothing to stop builders who really want to create new discotheques and boutique hotels. The community has been demanding the city create a moratorium on non-industrial development in the area for a decade, and nothing will really change until it does, he says.

“If they don’t like the deal they’re getting, they can always build hotels,” he said.

Mayor DeBlasio finally pledged to at least make it harder to build hotels and storage facilities — another high-profit, low-employment enterprise — in the zone in November, but the city now says it has to finish a year-long study before it can go ahead with that.

Residents questioned why that change requires a drawn-out investigation, while officials are already steaming ahead with the office project.

“Why can’t City Planning get rid of hotels and storage units in manufacturing districts, but they can do this like magic?” said board member Tom Burrows.

But a city rep claimed the department cannot rezone a large area without first doing a study, and that the Kent Avenue project is itself a trial run.

“We don’t want to bring this product out willy-nilly across a pretty significant chunk of industrial area without doing a test,” said Alex Sommer.

The proposal will next come before the full community board, though the panel’s recommendation is only advisory. The decision will likely come down to a Council vote, and the local member Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsbu­rg) has already voiced his enthusiastic support.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Context added.
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Reasonable discourse

Poontanah says:
They're Right! Let's open a horse carriage and gramophone factory there instead! We need more toxic factories to prevent the building of what people actually want and is relevant!
March 7, 2016, 3:54 am
Hanatnoop says:
Also factories that make buggy whips and VHS tapes.
March 7, 2016, 11:06 am
Resident from E. Williamsburg says:
Adam Friedman keeps saying 'community'. How much time do you think he spends in the community? Not much I'm guessing, if he thinks anyone around here is really clamoring to protect archaic manufacturing that really makes little sense in the area. Mr. Friedman is just a shill whose finger sure isn't on the pulse of the neighborhood.
March 7, 2016, 12:13 pm
resident from brooklyn says:
Does Mr. Friedman think that if hotels and entertainment venues simply are banned - but this building not be allowed - that developers will start building new buildings solely for manufacturing? What decade are we in? Sorry, what century?
March 7, 2016, 12:25 pm
b from gp says:
Instead, build a monument to Planned Parenthood.
March 7, 2016, 2:27 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
The idea that the community board should have any say at all about which jobs are good enough and which should be banned is absurd.
March 7, 2016, 3:42 pm
resident from E. Williamsburg says:
And again, as someone who actually live here, I will say that almost no one who actually lives in the community works in the IBZ. It would be a micro-fractional percent. And those o us in the actual community have to deal with 100% of the environmental impact of these types of business that make no sense being here. It's ridiculous.

I suspect Adam Friedman is a blowhard academic with a political agenda.
March 7, 2016, 3:56 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Whoever did believe that these new office buildings would be a savior were probably on something that I don't want to have any of.
March 7, 2016, 4:07 pm
Sheba says:
Levin has never met a developer he didn't like.
L'chaim and Mazel Tov.
March 7, 2016, 4:53 pm
robert from Williamsburg says:
Look at what you've done to our neighborhood. You've destroyed it. With all the newnew ppl buildings and businesses all its done is devalue the neighborhood. Williamsburg was once a.gem until you guys showed up and turned this into a "hhipster" area..... so sad!
March 8, 2016, 8:54 pm
Ian from Williamsburg says:
I bet a lot more people in the neighborhood work in offices than factories. This is a wasted battle for old embedded interests in scrap yards and toxic factories.
March 8, 2016, 10:39 pm

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