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Advocates Aren't Buying Developer's Promises At Hiring Locally

By Gwynne Hogan | June 9, 2017 5:17pm | Updated on June 12, 2017 8:55am
 The development would include some affordable housing and public green space.
The development would include some affordable housing and public green space.
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Department of City Planning

WILLIAMSBURG — A Brooklyn developer's promise to give back to the community was met with skepticism by housing advocates who point out the company has refused to honor similar promises made on a nearby building site.

Prolific Williamsburg developers Simon Dushinsky and Isaac Rabinowitz of the Rabsky Group pledged this week to build 287 units of subsidized housing, pay prevailing wages to service employees and to hire local workers for a 1,146-apartment complex they're trying to build at 200 Harrison Ave. located in the Broadway Triangle area.

But housing advocates say the Rabsky Group can't be trusted to keep to their word at their Broadway Triangle site because of issues currently playing out in nearby Bushwick, where the developer is ignoring an agreement made with the community in 2013.

“We have every confidence that they have no intention of engaging with us," said Adam Meyers an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, part of a community advisory group formed during the rezoning  of the Bushwick property and has been critical of Rabsky's plan for the Williamsburg site since last fall. "Even if they promised they would, we wouldn't believe them because their actions say otherwise.”

Meyers was referring to Rabsky's parcel of the former Rheingold Brewery site in Bushwick that they purchased in 2014 for $33 million, a few months after a contentious rezoning was given the thumbs up by the city.

The property's former owner, Read Property Group, had made non-binding commitments to the community on the eve of the rezoning about the number of affordable apartments and hiring locals, but soon after chopped the property up and sold pieces of it to Rabsky and All Year Management.

Since then, members of the project's community advisory group like Meyers have been fighting to try to get the new developers to live up to the agreements under which the property was rezoned. While Rabsky didn't technically make any of the commitments, the land would never have been zoned without them, they point out.

And while they've open some channels of discussion with All Year Management, Rabsky has been ignoring them, Meyers said.

"They haven't returned phone calls. They haven't met with us," Meyers said. "There's been no discussion."

Rabsky has only committed to build 100 affordable apartments, about 20 less than community advocates say was promised in a last-minute negotiations with Read Property Group.

And the Rabsky Group company hasn't hired a single person from St. Nicks Alliance workforce development program, said Larry Rothchild, the head of the program. The entire Rheingold site, which includes another property being developed by All Year Management, was supposed to take on 60 local hires through St. Nicks Alliance, he said.

"They are the sort of developer that says, 'I'm going to build exactly what I'm allowed to build,'" Meyers said.

Rabsky's Williamsburg project, located on two vacant city blocks that used to be owned by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer just north of Flushing Avenue recently began its public review process and was approved by Community Board 1's Land Use subcommittee this week. It goes before the full board on Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the Rabsky Group didn't respond immediately to a request for further comment.