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Williamsburg's Controversial Pfizer Rezoning Approved by City Council

By Gwynne Hogan | November 1, 2017 10:28am
 The Tuesday vote paves the way for the creation of an 1,146-apartment complex with 287 subsided units in the Broadway Triangle region of Williamsburg.  
The Tuesday vote paves the way for the creation of an 1,146-apartment complex with 287 subsided units in the Broadway Triangle region of Williamsburg.  
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Department of City Planning

CIVIC CENTER — Months of rowdy protests, shutting down public meetings and civil disobedience proved in vain Tuesday afternoon, as the City Council voted to green light a controversial apartment complex for the Broadway Triangle area of Williamsburg.

The City Council voted to approve Williamsburg developer The Rabsky Group's plan to build a sprawling, eight-building, 1,146-apartment complex with 287 units of subsidized housing, green space and ground-floor retail on long-vacant land formerly owned by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer at 200 Harrison Ave. on the border of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

"Today’s vote is not only an important milestone for Williamsburg," said Tom Corsillo, a spokesman for the Rabsky Group. "It also sends a powerful signal that the private sector has an important role to play in addressing the tremendous and growing need for affordable housing across the five boroughs.”

Six councilmembers voted against the project, including Councilman Antonio Reynoso, whose district sits across from the Broadway Triangle and who has been a vocal critic since the project's inception over a year ago.

“Today is a sad day,” Reynoso said. "The rezoning will only contribute to a long history of segregation in the Broadway Triangle."

The proposed apartment complex has been a lightening rod of controversy in Williamsburg for more than a year since it was announced, reigniting decades-old tensions between Latino and Jewish communities who straddle opposing sides of the Broadway Triangle region in South Williamsburg.

READ MORE: WILLIAMSBURG AFFORDABLE HOUSING DEBATE REVEALS NEIGHBORHOOD'S ETHNIC DIVIDE

Parts of the Broadway Triangle area were rezoned for residential development in 2009 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and privately-owned parcels have since seen an explosion of construction, with mostly Hasidic Jewish residents moving in.

Meanwhile, the plots of city-owned land intended to be redeveloped for affordable housing have remained vacant, tied up in a pending lawsuit filed by community groups who argued the rezoning violated fair housing laws and favored the area's Hasidic community.

While the Rabsky Group maintains that their project at 200 Harrison Ave. has nothing to do with the 2009 rezoning, opponents from an umbrella organization of community groups called the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition argued that further rezoning of the area would perpetuate segregation unless there's an explicit plan to combat it.

READ MORE: ADVOCATES SAY MAKEUP OF PFIZER PROJECT APTS WILL 'PERPETUATE SEGREGATION'

The group  — which includes Churches United for Fair Housing, Make the Road NY, El Puente, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and St. Nicks Alliance — also took issue with the sizes of the subsidized apartments.

After months of refusing to detail how big the apartments would be, the Rabsky Group finally said in early October that half the 287 subsidized apartment will be three and four bedrooms.

Opponents said that was further evidence that the project would give large Hasidic families an unfair advantage in the city's lottery process.

They also point to the Rabsky Group's patchy track record in north Brooklyn.

In Bushwick, the developer has been accused of shafting the community on a number of affordable apartments promised at the Rheingold site and the company is being sued for building three luxury buildings that aren't accessible to people in wheelchairs.

►READ MORE: LUXURY BUILDINGS IN WILLIAMSBURG an LIC IGNORE FAIR HOUSING LAWS: LAWSUIT

BUSHWICK SHAFTED ON AFFORDABLE UNITS AT RHEINGOLD BREWERY SITE: COUNCILMAN

The opposition was called outright anti-Semitic by the developers and at least one City Council member, when at an Oct. 10 public hearing, attorney Martin Needleman of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation insisted without evidence, that there was a "money connection" between the Rabsky Group and the Hasidic Community.

Later, the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition called for Councilman David Greenfield to recuse himself from a zoning subcommittee vote because he's slated to work for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, the Daily News reported.

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Despite the fervent opposition from a core group of community groups, the local Community Board had approved the project in a split vote.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams later voted against the project, though it skated though the City Planning Commission and subcommittees in the City Council in the city's lengthy land use rezoning process.

Council Member Stephen Levin, who represents the Broadway Triangle, has maintained throughout the months of public protest that 287 affordable apartments is better than vacant land.

“This project will produce hundreds of desperately needed affordable units," he said.