There have been tensions over a de Blasio administration plan for a key Brooklyn crossroads, City Limits has learned.
Members of the Coalition for Community Advancement expressed their frustrations with the Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) vision for the Broadway Junction redevelopment project in a January memo to Councilmember Rafael Espinal.
Specifically, the memo lists the coalition’s serious concerns regarding the potential displacement of current residents around Broadway Junction, and states that they are opposed to any rezoning of the area. The memo also mentions negotiations with the Leser Group, a real-estate firm that was rumored to be a frontrunner to develop a city office building in the area surrounding Broadway Junction.
Talks of improvements for the Brooklyn transit hub have picked up since November 2017, when the EDC announced the formation of the interagency Broadway Junction Working Group. The Working Group includes the offices of Espinal and Borough President Eric Adams, as well as the EDC, the departments of City Planning and Transportation, and the various community groups that make up the Coalition.
The memo, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, was sent on January 4th, from Julia Watt-Rosenfeld, formerly a director at the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation and a member of the Coalition, to Lloyd Esperance, Espinal’s Chief-of-Staff. The memo was meant to serve as a replacement for a meeting between the coalition and Espinal in advance of a working group meeting.
“As requested, we are sending a memo of our serious concerns about the working group process and product,” Watt-Rosenfeld wrote.
“We are not opposed to re-development of the Broadway Junction Area,” the memo says. “We are fully supportive of capital investments and transit equity and improvements in and around the Junction but believe these should not be tied to new development…We are opposed to development that displaces tenants, homeowners, merchants and community facilities.”
The memo expresses disappointment with the EDC’s handling of the project. “The Coalition cannot endorse EDC’s vision in its current form. It is not strong enough on displacement prevention…The Coalition was shocked to hear that EDC was ready to have a press conference to announce this vision without convening the working group…We aren’t trusting EDC and their commitment to include community members in a real way in the creation and publication of a working group document. We are prepared to escalate pressure on EDC.”
It’s unclear what that pressure might look like. A coalition member, who stressed that the memo was not intended to become public, said it was unclear when or how the city would move forward.
No rezoning wanted
According to the coalition’s vision, which was attached to the memo, the administration should prioritize “Institutions of higher education (i.e. a college); cultural center for performing arts, arts education and other related programming, with some type of accessible public bandshell and multi-use community center; neighborhood-serving retail (e.g. small groceries, shoe repair, etc.); healthy, affordable supermarket [and] credit unions.”
The coalition’s vision also states that “there should be no big box stores” and that “any rezoning of the Junction should not allow for new housing.”
The coalition was founded in 2015 as a collection of community groups and civic organizations that aimed to give a voice to those affected by the East New York (ENY) rezoning of 2016. The signers reference the fight over the rezoning in the memo, saying “We all agreed to broad goals in the ENY Rezoning and when we drilled down into the details, we learned that there was basic disagreements about definitions, there was not enough specificity about implementation plans and no one in city government was [coordinating] and holding the various agencies accountable…This can’t happen again.”
The memo calls for support from Espinal, asking that the councilmember endorse the coalition’s platform and “oppose a re-zone of the Broadway Junction Area and instead work on a parcel-by-parcel basis to win community benefits.”
Espinal says he did not endorse the Coalition’s platform, but tells City Limits that he’s “working closely with the Coalition to make a plan that’s best for the community.” He also maintains that he will not support new housing developments around the Junction.
“I have no interest in building housing in the Broadway Junction area,” Espinal says. “Our main goal is to create economic opportunities for the local community, and bring investment in a central part of the neighborhood that has been neglected for decades.”
The EDC has been receptive to the coalition’s fears, according to Espinal. “The EDC has had a long dialogue with the Coalition, and has incorporated many of the Coalition’s concerns.”
In a statement, the agency says it will continue discussions with the community.
“The Broadway Junction Working Group has provided valuable feedback and guidance to ensure this project delivers community amenities and promotes economic growth,” an EDC spokesperson says. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with the group, and developing an inclusive vision for a reinvigorated Broadway Junction.”
A CBA in the works?
The end of the memo also mentions negotiations with the Leser Group regarding a community benefits agreement (CBA).
“Thank you for meeting with us on December 10 about the possible CBA with Leser and for offering to support.” the memo says. “What feedback did you get from contacting EDC, Mayor’s office and Leser re: only supporting a Leser’s development proposal if there is a CBA with the Coalition?”
The Leser Group is a real-estate firm rumored to be the frontrunner to develop a city office building near the Junction. The building would include space for small businesses to serve as an economic anchor in the area.
Community benefit agreements typically involve private developers and can include promises to hire locally, create community space, offer income-targeted benefits, and more.
“It’s an ongoing conversation, but that is the goal,” Espinal says, referring to a potential agreement. “They have shown interest and we remain optimistic of this commitment.”
Espinal said that public could expect a plan from the EDC “hopefully by the end of the year.”