Rezoning, Bushwick-style?

At the Sept. 22 unveiling of the Bushwick Community Plan. (Photo by Chase Brush via Bklyner)

In different neighborhoods across the city – from El Barrio to Crown Heights to Inwood – the process of designing a rezoning plan has been a push and pull between what community residents want to preserve and what the city’s planning department and administration officials want to change. Determining how land and property should be used and developed, what to allow and what to disallow, has become a contentious matter in a city where more than a million units of affordable housing have been lost since 2005, according to City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.

So, in a measured and deliberate way over the past four years, the residents of gentrifying Bushwick developed a plan of their own, the Bushwick Community Plan, which they unveiled on Sept. 22 at the Academy of Urban Planning. They hope the 74-page plan will guide development in their neighborhood in a way that is acceptable. Rather than wait to have city planners present them with a blueprint and solicit their response, Bushwick residents decided to make their plan. And their hope is that unlike the recent experience in other neighborhoods, their views will carry weight once the city’s review and the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) begins. Also a boon: The effort was organized by local City Council members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal with Brooklyn Community Board 4 and a variety of other stakeholders. Reynoso has been active in developing housing task forces in his district to connect tenant organizers with city officials to fight displacement, and Espinal serves on the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee.

Writing in Bklyner, Chase Brush reported on what Reynoso had to say when the community introduced the plan:

“The plan that I want to push is the plan that comes out of this,” Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who represents Bushwick as well as parts of Williamsburg, told residents at the release event over the weekend. “Not a plan that comes from the administration, not a plan that comes from [the Department of City Planning]. I want to make sure that we follow through on every aspect of this plan from the community. I want this to be the first community plan in the city of New York that’s done word-for-word.”

Right now, many properties in Bushwick have extensive as-of-right powers, which means developers can build taller buildings without any real negotiation with the city for community benefits, writes Bianca Fortis in Gotham Gazette.

One such property is near the Myrtle-Wyckoff transit corridor, where developers plan to build a 27-story tower with retail space, office space, and 400 apartments, according to the minutes from a February meeting of the community board’s Housing and Land Use subcommittee. That particular high-rise wouldn’t be allowed under the zoning rules that are being proposed as part of the Bushwick Community Plan, according to Community Board 4 District Manager Celeste Leon.

In 2013, concerned by overdevelopment happening in nearby neighborhoods, members of the community board wrote a letter to then-City Council Member Diana Reyna seeking to explore the idea of rezoning Bushwick. The goal was to preserve the character of the community. In particular, preventing taller buildings, which have been referred to as “middle finger buildings,” from being wedged in between two- and three-family homes, according to current Reynoso, who succeeded Reyna in 2014.

Fortis writes that over the past four years, more than 200 people participated in developing the plan, “including the members of the community board, organizations like immigrant-advocacy group Make the Road New York, the RiseBoro Community Partnership, and Churches United for Fair Housing, as well as 21 individual Bushwick residents.” Among other things, the plan calls for…

…not allowing areas currently zoned for manufacturing to become residential unless certain requirements are met; allowing higher density development in some cases when it will increase the number of affordable housing units; and proposing historic districts as well as individual landmarks throughout the neighborhood. The plan also calls for increased funding for anti-displacement legal services, the creation of a program that would incentivize homeowners to keep rents affordable in their buildings, more sanitation funding for commercial corridors, and improving Maria Hernandez Park and Irving Square Park, the two largest parks in the neighborhood.

Not all the groups involved in the plan, however, are sanguine about its prospects. Bklyner’s Brush reports on what one activist had to say:

“These plans never go through as the community truly wants them to,” said Bruno Daniel Garcia, a community activist with Mi Casa No Es Su Casa and a former member of the BCP’s steering committee. “Look at Inwood and East Harlem — in the final result everyone was like, ‘this is not what we wanted. We shouldn’t have participated in them at all.’ There’s no evidence or mechanism in place now that makes me think this will be any different.”

“It’s good that this process is engaging the community, but it’s almost co-opting community engagement and just using that as a rubber stamp for what’s going on,” he added.

City Limit’s Sadef Ali Kully also wrote in detail about specific elements of the Bushwick Community Plan.

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