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Mayor's East New York-Ocean Hill Rezoning Plan Rejected by CB16

By Camille Bautista | November 25, 2015 2:57pm
 Winston Von Engel, Director for Department of City Planning's Brooklyn Borough Office, answered questions on the East New York rezoning at Community Board 16's meeting Tuesday night.
Winston Von Engel, Director for Department of City Planning's Brooklyn Borough Office, answered questions on the East New York rezoning at Community Board 16's meeting Tuesday night.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

BROWNSVILLE — Brooklyn’s Community Board 16 rejected the city’s plan to rezone the East New York and Ocean Hill area on Tuesday, making it the latest board to do so.

The board, which covers Brownsville and Ocean Hill, voted against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal that includes plans to build and preserve below market-rate apartments, spur economic development, improve local parks and bring a 1,000-seat school to the area.

Under the mayor's rezoning bid, East New York, Ocean Hill and parts of Brownsville are lumped together. East New York’s Community Board 5 has already rejected de Blasio's suggested changes.

Some residents and community board members at Tuesday’s meeting emphasized that they are not against the development. Rather, they’d like to see a plan that more meets the community’s needs.

Members voted against the bid 23-1 with four abstentions after representatives from the Department of City Planning fielded questions from the packed room at the Brownsville Multi-Service Center, and the board’s land use and economic development committees gave lengthy recommendations.

“We are intelligent people. We studied this program and if we vote it down it’s because we have certain concerns and we are actually telling you what we don’t like and what we do like,” board member Marie Pierre said to Winston Von Engel, Director for DCP's Brooklyn Borough Office. 

Prior to the vote, Von Engel emphasized that under East New York’s existing zoning, no affordable housing is required to be built by private developers.

“I think it's fair to say that regardless of how you vote, you say in your conditions that you care, and what are the things you care about that allow us to respond,” he said.

The board outlined several pages of conditions and concerns with the plan, which included:

► The current rezoning text does not address the ability for current business and community organizations to maintain affordability.

► Residential developments that come as a result of new mixed-use zoning would threaten existing manufacturing businesses, which are a “vital part of the community.”

► The city’s transportation safety issues focus largely on Atlantic Avenue, but a recent crash that killed a woman on Fulton and Sackman streets shows the need for improvements on other neighborhood streets.

► The proposed zoning along areas like Eastern Parkway would be out of context, where many buildings are low-rise. The board seeks to change the zoning text from to allow for keeping in context with the neighborhood.

There were aspects of the city's proposal that received scattered applause from attendees, such as a new strategy that could provide jobs for residents — a key demand echoed by locals over the last several months.

Any new housing project that receives $2 million or more in city subsidies is required to register jobs with the neighborhood’s planned Workforce1 Career Center, according to officials, and positions would be open to longtime residents.

Still, in their list of concerns Tuesday, CB16’s economic development committee noted that the Workforce1 location has yet to be determined, though the district requested one several years ago.

MORE ON THE CITY'S PROPOSED ZONING CHANGES:

Community Boards' Opinion on Rezoning Not as Important as Mine: De Blasio

► De Blasio Zoning Plan Unites Civic Groups in Opposition

► East New York Community Board Rejects City's Rezoning Plan

The board also voted no to the city’s two proposed zoning text amendments — Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA).

As the first of 15 neighborhoods targeted by the de Blasio administration in its affordable housing overhaul, East New York and Ocean Hill would be the initial areas affected by these proposed changes, DCP officials said.

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

CB16’s land use committee expressed concerns over a payment-in-lieu option for developers, in which they can waive the construction of affordable units if they prove hardship.

Other suggestions included changing the text amendment to allow affordable housing units to be constructed in the same buildings as market-rate units to promote “equal living” and economic diversity, board members said.

Under ZQA, zoning regulations would be updated to encourage contextual building design and increase the maximum height for structures, as well as create room for senior and affordable housing.

CB16 took issue with the city’s designation of Ocean Hill as a “transit zone” under ZQA, saying that while many public transportation modes are available in the district, they are not accessible to everyone.

Recommendations came as a result of several public meetings this fall, according to CB16 District Manager Viola D. Greene-Walker.

Like previous gatherings — including a packed public hearing Monday at Brooklyn Borough Hall where locals urged Borough President Eric Adams to vote against the plan — Tuesday night served as a sounding board for residents, many of whom called for the city to consider their input and work with a "community plan."

Others shared fears of being pushed out, and that Ocean Hill would see the same changes as rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg.

“What’s going to be different?” asked board member Carolyn Lee. “You say one thing but it’s like a bait and switch.”

City officials cited a commitment from the administration with upfront funding for parks and schools in East New York, along with more than $37 million set aside for legal assistance to help tenants facing harassment.

The inclusion of mandatory affordable housing is also a key difference, Von Engel added.

“Our goal is no displacement, our goal is to build affordable housing or residents of East New York and Ocean Hill,” he said.

Following Tuesday’s vote and this week’s hearing with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the proposed rezoning will go before the Borough President for consideration and City Planning Commission before a City Council Vote.