BUSHWICK — Distraught residents and local activists are demanding the city disapprove a controversial rezoning they say the community board illegally approved in a closed meeting — but the city has refused to challenge the board's vote.
Outraged neighbors of the slated rezoning site — nine blocks that developers have proposed to transform from industrial use to a mini-neighborhood with sleek high-rises — decried Bushwick Community Board 4's approval vote as "private and illegal" at a full board meeting Wednesday night and protested the massive development.
The board's vote, required by the state's Open Meetings Law to be open to all, was closed to the public, outraged residents said, noting that press was told the meeting was closed.
"We strongly condemn the private vote...We demand accountability regarding this closed-door tactic and expect all plans for the development of Rheingold cease immediately," Rheingold neighbor Brigette Blood said in a statement representing multiple residents at the meeting Wednesday. "A quiet proud neighborhood of homeowners will be dwarfed and shadowed by this proposal and the promise of industry forever pushed out of our side of Bushwick."
Residents have also formed a petition demanding the city disapprove the rezoning or "halt the process until the Bushwick community can be included in its envisioning." The petition's hard copy has gained about 200 to 300 signatures, Blood said, and an online version of the document was just posted Thursday morning.
But Community Board 4's district manager Nadine Whitted denied the vote had been done in private — even though she previously told the blog Bushwick Daily the July vote had been private. Whitted had justified the private meeting since the public hearing was officially held in June but the vote was postponed for members to "get more information" from the developers.
"We're not trying to hide anything," Whitted said Wednesday. "I will take the weight for not inviting you and anyone else. Did we vote? Yes. Did we do anything to hurt Bushwick? In our opinion, no."
Whitted noted that their approval vote included provisions for more affordable housing, which was a central concern both for board members and upset residents. And she noted that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has also approved the rezoning with similar provisions for affordable housing.
"Through this process if you're not able to be heard on one level there are many levels," Whitted said, adding that there was still a meeting about the rezoning with the City Council, whose vote is passed to the mayor for ultimate approval.
The City Planning Commission also heard testimony on the rezoning earlier this month, but refused to comment on the legality of the board's vote, which was advisory.
"The City Planning Commission reviews and considers all testimony that it receives prior to its vote," a spokesman for the agency said.
City Councilwoman Diana Reyna previously claimed she was investigating the board's vote but she has not indicated since then that she was looking any further into the controversy. A representative from Reyna's office did not immediately return emails requesting comment.
To distressed residents, it was still clear at the end of Wednesday's meeting that the board had broken the law. But the board insisted that they had the community's best interest in mind, and said they had a track record of caring about the neighborhood even when no one else did.
"It was this group that helped rebuild this community...Nobody wanted to be a part of us," Whitted said of Bushwick's past strife with high crime and poverty.
And board member Martha Brown warned that if they voted against the project completely, the developer might still build without providing them the affordable housing they requested.
"If we vote against this and they don't work with us, they'll really come make a Williamsburg," said Brown of the gentrification to their west.
A representative for the Rheingold developer Read Properties did not immediately return calls requesting comment.