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Occupy Offshoot Challenges Hard-Won Crown Heights Rezoning Ahead of Vote

By Sonja Sharp | July 30, 2013 8:17am
 Passengers wait for the Franklin Avenue shuttle. The MTA denied a renovation of the station on Fulton Street in the latest budget negotiations. 
Passengers wait for the Franklin Avenue shuttle. The MTA denied a renovation of the station on Fulton Street in the latest budget negotiations. 
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

CROWN HEIGHTS — A group of ex-Occupiers unhappy with the popular proposal to rezone the epicenter of gentrification in Crown Heights is demanding major changes to the document just days before the City Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on it, DNAinfo has learned. 

The Crown Heights Assembly, an Occupy offshoot that evolved into a housing rights coalition, is blasting the Crown Heights West rezoning proposal in an online petition, calling for a new 'anti-harassment zone' and 'mandatory inclusionary zoning' for affordable housing little more than a week before the Aug. 7 vote.

"We need your help to tell the New York City Council to include protections for affordable housing and increased penalties for harassing tenants in the proposed Crown Heights West rezoning," the petitioners states. 

"The rezoning only includes a voluntary incentive, called Inclusionary Zoning, for developers to build some affordable units within market-rate developments. This incentive has a track record in NYC of resulting in few affordable units, and a vast array of luxury housing."

The proposed rezoning represents nearly a decade-long effort by Community Board 8 to alter local regulations to reflect the "row-house and apartment building character" of the existing neighborhood and "incentivize affordable housing development along commercial corridors."

If approved by the Planning Commission and the City Council, the new zone would put strict limits on new construction across a 55-block swath of Crown Heights, bounded by Eastern Parkway to the south, Grand Avenue to the west and Nostrand Avenue to the east, and skirting the industrial zone on the neighborhood's northern border.

At the same time, the proposal would allow developers to build up along Franklin and Bedford avenues in exchange for more affordable units, a top priority for local supporters. 

"Brooklyn CB 8 has been vocal and committed in its pursuit of affordable housing for the District," Community Board 8 Chairwoman Nizjoni Granville wrote in a May 28 letter of support for the proposal. "CB 8 hopes for guarantees of permanently affordable housing from those developers and property owners benefiting from the rezoning." 

But while beefier affordable housing measures have been a bone of contention for many, the Crown Heights Assembly petition goes much further, demanding the city investigate possible tenant harassment whenever it receives a demolition request and set up area-specific penalties for landlords found guilty of it. 

"Obviously if the City Planning Commission receives comment in time, it will be shared with the committee," said a commission spokeswoman. "But at this point the vote is scheduled for next Wednesday."

The Crown Heights Assembly did not respond to email requests for comment. 

Nevertheless, the petition is far more sedate than the Assembly's previous foray into the neighborhood's heady gentrification politics, which landed its members in hot water this winter when My Space NYC filed suit against the group for allegedly plotting to run amok at its open houses and otherwise disrupt business for the local real estate concern. 

Insiders say the Assembly has since shied away from its Occupy origins, instead seeking to rebrand itself as a grassroots army against gentrification. Or, in the words of the petition "a coalition of long-term residents and newcomers working for affordable and harassment-free housing in Crown Heights."