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City's Rezoning Proposal Shot Down by Bed-Stuy Community Board

By Camille Bautista | November 3, 2015 4:45pm
 Winston Von Engel, left, and Brian Dennis, of the Department of City Planning, listen at a Brooklyn Community Board 3 meeting Monday as residents voice their concerns over the new zoning proposals.
Winston Von Engel, left, and Brian Dennis, of the Department of City Planning, listen at a Brooklyn Community Board 3 meeting Monday as residents voice their concerns over the new zoning proposals.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A city bid to increase affordable housing through zoning changes was shot down by the local community board Monday night, after residents railed against the plan, saying they feared the move would eventually force them out of the area.

Brooklyn’s Community Board 3 voted against the city’s “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” and “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” amendments Monday, following a more than an hour-long heated discussion between the Department of City Planning and locals in opposition of the suggestions.

C. Doris Pinn, chair of the Housing and Land Use committee, said the group recommended to vote against both proposals with several points in mind: residents did not want to give up parking spaces, and the proposed changes did not align with the committee’s vision in maintaining the neighborhood’s character.

Locals said they also feared that the city's proposal would open the door to gentrification and increase unwanted taller buildings in the neighborhood.

“Everybody wants to rezone us, and it’s always 'in our best interest.' It’s not in our best interest, it’s in your best interest,” said resident Demetrice Mills, addressing city reps to applause and agreement from audience members.

“The question here is, what are you really trying to do? Are you trying to move us out of the community?” 

The two proposals come as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initiative to address the affordable housing crisis, according to agency representatives.

The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal would require developers to make portions of any new residence available below market rate, as well as requiring them to be “permanently affordable.”

Under Zoning for Quality and Affordability, the city would tack on up to 20 additional feet to building height allowances to make enough room for affordable housing as well as to “encourage buildings’ attractiveness,” according to city planning officials.

The city also wants to eliminate some parking lot requirements for some affordable and senior housing units in the community, saying that Bed-Stuy is one of the city's "transit zones" that has easy access to public transportation.

“We find that in affordable housing, the parking does not get used,” said Winston Von Engel, Director for DCP's Brooklyn Borough Office. “It is built, it is provided, but it is not used because it is still charged for.”

“If you don’t want to believe us about affordable housing and the cost of parking, by all means, vote it down,” Von Engel continued. "But I do encourage you to look at affordable housing and the parking lots that do exist, and look to see how well that parking is used. Think about whether or not our tax dollars are best invested in parking that does not get used.”

A total of 75 percent of residents in Bed-Stuy do not use cars to commute to work, he added, and lower-income families generally have "very low" car ownership.

The statement drew the ire of many attendees at Monday's presentation.

“It’s really disrespectful to come to us and say that we don’t own cars, or that we don’t drive,” Mills said.

Attendees added that while the neighborhood may be “transit rich,” it is not “transit efficient.”

Critics also expressed concerns with future rezonings, saying that in another five years, the city would likely return with plans to rezone the neighborhood.

Vaughn Armour, a longtime resident of Crown Heights, urged Bed-Stuy community members to “not be fooled.”

“I heard this story before in Community Board 9, how beautiful it’s going to be, and the low-income housing,” Armour said. “This is another way of gentrification of the community, that’s all it is.”

Critics said adding stories to new buildings to provide affordable units is not an adequate long-term solution.

They said because tenant selection for the new affordable units will still be based on a lottery system, locals may not be guaranteed a chance at the units.

Department of Housing Preservation & Development officials argued that the new, affordable apartments would have a 50 percent preference for those living within the community district.

The proposals will now undergo review from the City Planning Commission and the City Council.