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Broadway Triangle Rezoning

In June 2009, the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) unveiled its proposed plan for East Williamsburg’s Broadway Triangle, which involves rezoning and redeveloping 31 acres of the Triangle for affordable housing and commercial uses. The Broadway Triangle, an area of approximately 50 acres, is located in East Williamsburg, near the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick. Historically, this area has been used for industrial purposes, but it has failed to attract a healthy level of industry and instead remained under-used and blighted by vacant properties.

New York City’s plan to rezone 31 acres within the Triangle is designed to bring investment back to a long-underdeveloped site, encourage much-needed affordable housing in the neighborhood, and allow for retail uses to serve the community. HPD owns several parcels within the site, on which 488 units of affordable housing will be built. The City’s plan uses inclusionary zoning bonuses to encourage affordable housing development on private parcels within the Triangle. In total, the plan is expected to create 1,851 apartments, of which 905 will be affordable. The rezoning plan also aims to encourage commercial development within the Triangle. The City is projecting the new zoning will produce 103,000 square feet of additional retail space and 35,000 square feet of community facility space.

The rezoning is contentious for two central reasons: concerns about density and allegations of political favoritism. A coalition of community groups oppose the rezoning because they would like to see higher densities allowed. Many also object to a decision by HPD to award no-bid contracts to two community organizations to develop two parcels-- a legal move but one that opponents say is politically motivated.

During the summer of 2009, opponents began circulating an alternative plan which included high-rise buildings and up to 3,731 new units of housing (1,800 of which would be affordable). It also proposed rezoning a larger area, including a parcel owned by Pfizer, the drug-maker which operated a plant near the site until 2008. The City has said it does not want to include the Pfizer parcel in its current rezoning plan because it would increase the value of the land and impact future land-use negotiations with the company. Ultimately, this plan did not generate political support.

The City’s rezoning efforts continue a longstanding debate about land use in the area that began almost 30 years ago. In the1980s, community leaders began looking at the Broadway Triangle as an ideal location for affordable housing. In 1989, recognizing a need to address the 35 percent vacant land in the area, the City worked with Pfizer to develop an urban renewal plan. The urban renewal plan permitted residential uses at the southern end; the northern end was reserved for industrial uses in order to generate jobs. Although some affordable housing was produced, the industrial areas remained largely vacant and job growth did not match expectations.

The push for affordable housing in the Triangle intensified as a result of increased investment in Williamsburg over the last 10 years. The current rezoning plan has its roots in an agreement more than a decade ago - a memorandum of understanding between then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and elected officials representing Hasidic and Latino communities the neighborhood. The MOU, an attempt to ease long-simmering tensions in the neighborhood, laid out several areas within Williamsburg – including the Broadway Triangle - for affordable housing development (Bargaining for Brooklyn, 2007). In 2006, HPD, the New York Department of City Planning, Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and United Jewish Organizations, began shaping the ULURP application for the Broadway Triangle rezoning. As those plans developed, several other community groups claimed they were left out of the visioning process for the Triangle, thus reigniting tensions.

In June 2009, HPD began the ULURP process and Community Board 1 voted in favor of the proposal in July of the same year. In August, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (D) endorsed the plan with stipulations, including tweaking zoning in order to produce another 150 units of affordable housing, ensuring affordability remains long-term, and offering relocation assistance to businesses located within the Triangle (Office of Borough President). As of September 2009, at least six businesses would be affected by the City’s use of eminent domain to take properties that are part of the plan. (NY Daily News). The acquisition of properties is currently undergoing a public review and approval processes.

In September 2009, the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition filed a lawsuit alleging racial and religious discrimination in the City’s rezoning. The City plan calls for lower-density buildings, as opposed to high-rise structures. The lawsuit alleged the low-rise buildings wereincluded in the plan as a concession to the Williamsburg Hasidic community, as religious Jews cannot use elevators on the Sabbath. The suit also argued Community District 3, which neighbors the site and represents a large black community, had been left out of the decision-making process.

The Broadway Triangle rezoning was approved in October 2009 by the City Planning Commission. In December 2009, the City Council's Land Use Committee voted 12-6 to modify the plan. The modifications stipulate the City give preference for open public space in proposals for city-owned lots. The City Council approved the plan in December 2009. A few days late, the New York State Supreme Court halted the project's development, in accordance with a suit brought by the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition. This coalition, comprising of roughly forty community organizations, maintains that the project is unconstitutional on the grounds that it negatively impacts racial and religious minority populations of the area. The future of the rezoning remains uncertain.

Last Updated: January 11, 2010