CROWN HEIGHTS — A community board meeting turned hostile Tuesday night when critics of a controversial plan to rezone parts of Crown Heights and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens showed up en masse to demand the board rescind it's request for a study of the move.
Dozens of members of the local anti-developer group, Movement to Protect the People, filled an auditorium for Community Board 9's full board meeting and demanded the board yank its yes vote in favor of exploring rezoning in the area. Things got so confusing and hostile that there were multiple calls for NYPD officers to calm the crowd
“Rescind! Rescind! Rescind! Everything should stop!” Geoffrey A. Davis, Crown Heights’s newly elected district leader, shouted at the hearing at Medgar Evers College, shortly before officers from the 71st Precinct were called into the room in one of many such interventions by police to the three-hour meeting.
Opponents of rezoning fear it might open the door for developers to swoop in and build high-rise residential towers, while supporters hope rezoning would better protect residents from overdevelopment and pave the way for adding affordable housing to the neighborhood.
The conflict has been heating up since the spring when CB9 voted to send a resolution to the Department of City Planning to begin studying rezoning in the neighborhood, infuriating MTOPP and other opponents who said the document was not written with consensus from the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, following the repeated demand to rescind that resolution, CB 9 member Fred Baptiste, head of the Education Committee, called for a re-vote, to the delight of MTOPP members present.
Sixteen board members voted to rescind the resolution, nine members voted no and eight abstained, sparking cheers from MTOPP members who believed they successfully overturned CB9's earlier resolution.
However, the elation quickly gave way to confusion as those in the audience tried to figure out whether the abstention votes would count as yes, no, or neutral as the meeting adjourned.
When asked about the outcome immediately following the vote, CB9 Chairman Dwayne Nicholson didn’t have an answer, saying “I’m going to have to find that out.”
On Wednesday morning, the confusion continued as CB9 district manager Pearl Miles initially told DNAinfo New York the vote to rescind had passed successfully — then later clarified that under the rules of the city’s community board handbook, “there must be more ‘yes’ votes than the total of ‘no’ votes and abstentions combined in order for a motion to carry.”
As a result, abstention votes had to be counted as no votes, which meant the rezoning study resolution would be allowed to stand — 17 against, 16 in favor, she said.
The confusion outraged critics.
“I’m not really sure what happened,” said Alicia Boyd, the leader of MTOPP, directly after Tuesday night's meeting.
Adrian Untermyer, a 24-year-old resident of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and member of MTOPP, said the vote count shows that CB9 is a mess and should be forced to publicly release their bylaws to prevent future confusion.
Untermyer is currently suing CB9 over a Freedom of Information Law request he submitted to the board in August to obtain CB9’s bylaws after he found out the resolution specified Empire Boulevard as a site for possible rezoning.
“I was alerted of this surprise resolution long after its passage and feared that development along the corridor would threaten the lives and livelihoods of longtime residents,” he wrote in the legal complaint. “I requested Community Board 9’s bylaws in an effort to understand the means by which our community could fight back against this existential threat to the neighborhood.”
Still, several board members warned the crowd Tuesday night that time spent fighting the rezoning process may be wasting time in a place where development is already happening quickly.
“The developers are swooping in and purchasing land as we talk,” said CB9’s treasurer Diana Richardson over shouts and jeers.
“If you say no to zoning, you’re also saying no to the only kind of affordable housing this administration is proposing,” added board member and local blogger Tim Thomas, referring to Mayor Bill de Blasio's vow to boost affordable housing in NYC.
But opponents said they are undeterred and vowed they “will be back,” Boyd said.
“It’s going to be very difficult for this community board to move forward with a resolution that clearly does not have support,” she said.