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Protesters Shut Down Meeting to Discuss Massive Pfizer Development

By Gwynne Hogan | September 22, 2016 10:11am
 A city planning representative called off the meeting after about a half and hour of chanting, whistles and marching around the auditorium. 
Protesters Shut Down City Planning Meeting on Pfizer Development
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WILLIAMSBURG — Rowdy protesters shut down the first public meeting to discuss a sprawling 1,147-apartment complex planned for the Broadway Triangle area.


"Shut it down"

A video posted by Gwynne Hogan (@fritsyg) on

Calm lasted only a few seconds at the City Planning session held Wednesday on behalf of the Rabsky Group, a developer that wants to convert 4.2 acres of vacant land into apartments.

Then a community organizer stepped up to the microphone and seized control of the meeting.

Community currently shutting down pfizer development scoping session in Williamsburg pic.twitter.com/uuxyKddJaz

The anger and frustration from North Brooklyn residents is two pronged.

They point to a stalled lawsuit that members of the community filed against the city about the 2009 rezoning of Broadway Triangle that they say discriminated against black and Latinos and favored the Hasidic community.

They also question the Rabsky's Group's track record in the area.

The Rabsky Group, backed by partners Simon Dushinsky and Isaac Rabinowitz, was on the Attorney General's list of property owners who get 421-a tax breaks but don't offer rent stabilized leases, following reports from ProPublica on the practice. 

In October, a man died in a malfunctioning elevator in a luxury building the group owned.

The Rabsky Group is also dealing with the nearby Bushwick community where they're building apartments on a piece of the Rheingold development site.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who represents the part of Bushwick where the Rheingold site is, rallied with Williamsburg residents Wednesday night although the Pfizer site is outside of his district.

He said that, so far, the Rabsky Group hasn't honored commitments of having monthly meetings with the community or reached out to non-profits to hire local workers for the Rheingold project.

"How do we hold them accountable for not following through with community-based commitments if we allow them to build somewhere else," Reynoso said.

"The only leverage we have is to make sure that the next time they come out for any other district that we let that community know what type of developer that they're going to be dealing with.

"The thing is that it's the exact same community."

With banners, signs and noisemakers, about 100 protesters stomped around I.S. 318's auditorium a few blocks from the development site before the Department of City Planning agreed to call the meeting off, following about a half hour of protest.

 The Rabsky Group's plans for a massive Broadway Triangle development moving forward.
The Rabsky Group's plans for a massive Broadway Triangle development moving forward.
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Department of City Planning

The thwarted meeting was a "scoping session," a piece of the community input process that happens before the city's rezoning process starts.

"It's never acceptable to prevent the public from being heard and we intend to reschedule the meeting to ensure that the public has that opportunity,"  said Rachaele Raynoff, spokeswoman for the City's Planning Commission.

Lee Silberstein, a spokesman for the Rabsky Group, echoed Raynoff's remarks saying that it was "unfortunate that some people's view of democracy in action is stopping all voices from being heard."

"The process, which is designed to gather input and build consensus, will continue," Silberstein said.

"As it does, we'll make the case that the long-dormant, privately owned site is well suited for mixed-income housing."

But Reynoso argued that "the process itself is a problem."

"The process by which they want to legitimize this project is not something we recognize," he said.

Councilman Stephen Levin, who represents the Broadway Triangle, said he didn't know Reynoso was going to help shut down the scoping meeting and pointed out that the project would bring roughly 344 affordable apartments to an area starved for housing. 

"This community desperately needs affordable housing," Levin said. "What we now see is no affordable housing has been built at Broadway Triangle and it's almost the end of 2016. That is tragic."