The neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant all converge on the 50-acre area site, known as the Broadway Triangle, which is bounded roughly by Broadway and Union and Flushing avenues.
Redevelopment of the site has proved especially tricky for the city because it sits at the intersection of three diverse neighborhoods with large low-income populations in need of more jobs and affordable housing.
The years-long debate over how to best develop the site - a discussion that has stoked racial and socioeconomic divisiveness between the city and African-American, Latino, and Hasidic communities who contend their voices have been ignored - came to a head at the June 10th Community Board 1 meeting where the city presented its latest plans for the Broadway Triangle.
In their presentation, city representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) outlined plans for a low-density rezoning of the area that would accommodate approximately 1,900 apartments, 48 percent of which HPD expects will be set aside as affordable housing.
Opponents of the plan, led by members of the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition (BTCC), a coalition of 40 organizations, consistently interrupted the city’s presentation with loud chants of protest that made the presentation all but inaudible to community board members being briefed on the matter.
Afterwards, protesters spilled out of the Swinging Sixties Senior Center, where the meeting was held, onto Ainslie Street, where they continued demonstrating for over an hour.
“We refuse to go forward with [the city’s] plan that really doesn’t understand what our people need,” said Juan Ramos, BTCC’s chairperson.
BTCC is lobbying for an alternative rezone that would allow for up to 4,800 units, with a 75 percent affordable housing component that Ramos said would best serve the residents in the Broadway Triangle area.
“Our plan can represent something that’s truly for the people,” Ramos said.
Daisey Fermin, who lives in South Williamsburg, echoed many angry residents when she said the city has ignored their input in the process of planning a rezoning plan that will not reflect the area’s affordable housing shortage.
“We’re being driven out by gentrification,” said Fermin. “The city’s plan is not going to give fair housing for low-income people.”
Residents like Fermin fear HPD’s plan would further speed the gentrification of North Brooklyn, and parts of Central Brooklyn, that has resulted in higher rents forcing thousands of longtime residents to move out of their neighborhoods.
Others, including Marty Needleman, BTCC’s attorney, argued that the city brazenly excluded many community organizations in favor of working closely with two groups - the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and United Jewish Organizations - that would control any new affordable housing built in the area.
Supporters of the rezone said despite obvious community opposition the city’s plan still represents the best redevelopment option for Broadway Triangle.
“Broadway Triangle has been an eyesore as long as I can remember,” said Richard Mazur, an affordable housing advocate and executive director of the North Brooklyn Development Corporation, which does not have a stake in the project. “I think something should get started now.”
Mazur said over the years plenty of development projects in the area have stalled or never materialized due to fighting between the city, private organizations, and developers over crafting a perfect plan. In this case he said the city’s plan, not BTCC’s, is more likely to be realized.
“It’s a smaller hill to climb,” Mazur said.
CB1 members had mixed feelings, though many were more frustrated than anything that the raucous protesting made it hard to concentrate on the city’s presentation. CB1 member Simon Weiser said the city’s plan seemed practical.
“There’s no money for the other plan,” Weiser said, referring to BTCC’s alternative proposal. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Yenfri Gomez, another board member, said the community board’s efforts to better understand the city’s proposal were stifled by the jeering protesters, who brought the meeting to a standstill on several occasions, and the fact that HPD representatives left before CB1 members could ask them any questions.
“If we couldn’t ask questions, what was the point of presenting?” said Gomez. “We’re not against development, we just want development that will be better [for the community].”
The confusion notwithstanding, CB1 now has two months to review the city presentation, which formally opened the Uniformed Land Use Review Process (ULURP). CB1 must vote on the project later this summer.