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Bushwick Housing Boom Spurs Locals to Rein In Redevelopment

By Meredith Hoffman | March 28, 2013 7:08am | Updated on March 28, 2013 8:51am

BUSHWICK — Spurred by the rapid boom of new housing developments and businesses, local community leaders are asking the city to rezone Bushwick to help stop high-rise buildings, bars, liquor stores and storage facilities from taking over the neighborhood.

Bushwick Community Board 4 members believe the rezoning is necessary "to preserve the unique character of Bushwick," they wrote in a letter to elected officials.

"To help manage the growth and rebirth of the Bushwick neighborhood we feel the time is right to begin rezoning," the members wrote to City Council Member Diana Reyna and other officials. "We want to be able to decide and identify which areas of the district are suitable for higher density housing."

The rezoning, the letter said, should also require "down-zoning" to ensure that high-rise buildings not spring up on residential streets. And the city should address "recent community concerns regarding the proliferation of bars, nightclubs, liquor stores on the main streets and avenues, and box storage warehouses," members wrote.

Proponents of the zoning changes say the new rules for buildings — which the city's Department of City Planning would ultimately decide — are needed to save Bushwick from exploitation by developers, affordable housing advocates say.

"The last thing Bushwick needs is high rises. It needs affordable housing," said Rolando Guzman, a Bushwick resident who worked with the North Brooklyn non-profit St. Nick's Alliance throughout Williamsburg's rezoning process in 2005. "And there needs to be some rule to prevent the displacement of local businesses and residents." 

Residential rents saw a recent "abnormal" 20 percent leap, sparking fears from locals that the area could become priced out for longtime residents.

Guzman, who said residents had failed to achieve stricter regulations on the Williamsburg waterfront to prevent such high-density buildings, noted the "sad reality" that the community board's role is "only advisory" when it comes to rezoning.

"One of the main things we've been asking for is that the community have more of an input in rezonings," he said.

But even longtime residents could be split about which buildings should have limited heights, said one community board member who asked not to be named. Homeowners looking to sell their buildings, for example, would profit most if they fell in high-density zoning, advocates say.

Regardless of potential conflicts ahead, Council Member Diana Reyna's staff said the rezoning request was understandable in light of Bushwick's quick transformation.

"They've seen it work successfully in Bedford-Stuyvesant," a spokesman in her office said of the other Brooklyn neighborhood's recent rezoning. "It's a response to socioeconomic changes in the area."

A spokesman for the Department of City Planning said Bushwick's rezoning would require "lengthy analysis and public engagement."

"As always, our door is open to consult with the community and local elected officials," he said, "to identify their land use objectives and develop a consensus-based strategy to achieve them."