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7 Protesters Arrested at Hearing for Controversial Williamsburg Rezoning

By Gwynne Hogan | July 26, 2017 5:20pm
 Seven protesters were arrested Wednesday afternoon at a public hearing on the Rabsky Group's proposal  to build an 1,146 apartment complex in the Broadway Triangle.
Seven protesters were arrested Wednesday afternoon at a public hearing on the Rabsky Group's proposal to build an 1,146 apartment complex in the Broadway Triangle.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

CIVIC CENTER — Seven protesters were arrested Wednesday afternoon during an effort to shut down a public hearing on a developer's controversial plan to build a 1,146-unit apartment complex in the Broadway Triangle area of Williamsburg.

Protesters, who've been shutting down public hearings on the Rabsky Group's proposal for 200 Harrison Ave., a vacant plot of land formerly owned by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer since last fall, burst into a City Planning Commission hearing, interrupting the developer's pitch to the commission with chants and jeers.

After five minutes of chants from protesters who sat down on the ground refusing the budge from the floor, seven people were arrested including Juan Ramos, an organizer with the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, and Jesus Gonzalez, co-executive director of Churches United For Fair Housing.

They were pulled out of the hearing room in handcuffs, charged with disorderly conduct and later released, advocates confirmed following the hearing.

Another throng of protesters continued shouting for several minutes before quieting down when threatened with further arrests. The hearing proceeded after about 20 minutes.

Opposition to The Rabsky Group's proposal for the eight-building apartment complex with 287 affordable apartments, which the developer has dismissed as anti-Semitic bullying, fear the project will favor the area's Orthodox Jewish community, and further perpetuate segregation at the Broadway Triangle.

So far the Rabsky Group won't commit to a breakdown of apartment size, which protesters fear will be larger apartments that cater to the area's Orthodox population. Opponents also argue the buildings could be taller high rises for maximum number of affordable apartments.

"If the apartment breakdown is not set, is not legally binding they're going to do whatever they want," said Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who represents the area just across from the Broadway Triangle and has opposed the rezoning proposal, along with local community groups, arguing the city should halt the rezoning process and consider a comprehensive rezoning for the whole Broadway Triangle.

City Planning commissioners grilled Ray Levin, an attorney for the Rabsky Group, on why the apartment unit hasn't been determined and worried what would happen to the developers' commitments if they broke the site up and sold it off to different property owners, like what had happened to promises at the Rheingold site where the Rabsky Group purchased a plot of rezoned land from Read Property Group and now won't follow through on the commitments made by Read. 

"It would be challenging for more of us to vote without having more information," said Commissioner Michelle de la Uz.

Commissioner Irwin Cantor told Levin, "you've given us nothing to vote on."

Following the hearing, a spokesman for the developer, Lee Silberstein, thanked the City Planning Commission for starting the hearing back up despite the disruption.

"We appreciate the opportunity to make the case for the approval of 1,147 units of mixed income housing, prevailing wage jobs for area residents and more open space in the area," he said.

The City Planning Commission has 60 days to review the rezoning proposal before it turns it over to the City Council as part of the city's Land Use process.