BUSHWICK — The fate of 88 affordable apartments at the former Rheingold Brewery site hangs in the balance as community advocates, developers and city agencies duke it out in a snarl of red tape and conflicting documents.
The mega-project has been a source of contention since it was introduced in 2013.
Promising to bring 1,411 new apartments to the massive site, architects have dubbed it a "city within a city.” Neighbors, however, feared the projected would overwhelm the existing community with its size and would be rubber-stamped without proper oversight or enough affordable housing.
Now, community members fear that developers are short-changing the number of once-promised affordable units.
Complicating matters, Read Property Group divvied up the property and sold it off to two different developers; All Year Management and Rabsky Group. Since then, community groups and local elected officials been pushing to try to force the new owners to commit to the non-binding promises made to them by another property owner.
In the City Planning Commission's October 2013 report when the property at 123 Melrose and 10 Montieth streets was rezoned, Read Property Group agreed to build 24 percent affordable housing at the site, 4 percent of which would be senior housing built on an adjoining lot given to a local nonprofit.
But in a subsequent letter to then City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, dated the eve before the controversial 2013 rezoning and cited by community advocates and local politicians, the developer promised to build 30 percent subsidized apartments.
"We’re confused, but we've told everybody we're not going to close this until we have resolution," said Louise Carroll, the Associate Commissioner of Housing Incentives at the city's Department of Housing and Preservation, who said she's bringing up the discrepancy with the law department to see what legal recourse the city has.
If both developers get their way, Bushwick residents could see 88 fewer subsidized apartments promised in the December 2013 agreement.
The city has already approved the Rabsky Group's application for voluntary inclusionary housing at 10 Montieth St. with a commitment to construct just 20 percent affordable housing there, or 100 of 500 apartments.
That's 20 apartments fewer than what the December 2013 letter would have provided.
And HPD is in the process of reviewing All Year Management's application for the subsidy program, proposing to set aside just 20 percent of the 911 apartments as affordable housing.
At a recent community board meeting advocates and elected officials grilled All Year Management's attorney, insisting that the company should stick to the December 2013 letter which committed to 30 percent affordable housing.
"You absolutely intended to disrespect us by coming in here with some nonsense," said local city Councilman Antonio Reynoso. "You're doing something that is barely legal for you to do."
Beyond the sheer number of affordable apartments Bushwick might lose, residents were also promised three-bedroom apartments as part of the Dec. 2013 letter, meant to cater to larger families in the neighborhood.
But All Year's plan presented Thursday only offered studios, one and two-bedroom units.
"What happened to the three-bedrooms?" board member Robert Camacho wanted to know.
The lawyer for All Year, Alvin Schein, said that in the latest rendition of All Year's plan, there were 50 percent more apartments but in the same building footprint as before, meaning that all the apartments in the building were smaller and thus there was no space for three-bedrooms.
The developer promised to hire 60 local residents to work at the site, and so far All Year and Rabsky have only hired 12 people, according to a staffer from St. Nicks Alliance.
A spokesperson for Rabsky Group didn't respond to a request for comment immediately.
Read the 2013 non-binding agreement from Read Property Group signed on the night before the rezoning.