City’s Promises in the Spotlight as Bay Street Rezoning Moves Forward

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William Alatriste/City Council

Councilmember Debi Rose (file photo) praised the deal as one that would be ‘a roadmap to a new investment’ in the area.

The City Council subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises unanimously voted to approve the Bay Street Corridor rezoning plan Thursday, the seventh rezoning under the de Blasio administration housing plan.

The plan has been in the making for over five years. It rezones 20 blocks of Staten Island’s North Shore and could lead to the creation of 1,800 new units of housing, including 1,300 income-targeted apartments. The city has promised $250 million in local investments.

The City Council Land Use subcommittee voted 6 to 0 for the city’s Bay Street Corridor rezoning proposal.

Negotiations between the city administration, City Council and local Councilmember Debi Rose went well into the night before the committee vote. Rose said she got the most she could to match her top priorities of deeper affordable housing, infrastructure, transit and the long-awaited renovation of North Shore’s Cromwell Recreation Center.   

“The North Shore is not a gated community, and I have maintained a commitment to ensure that no one feels shut out of their own neighborhood,” said Rose before the vote. “I believe my constituents will be pleased with the $250 million package we delivered for the North Shore. All of these commitments include many strategies to ensure that the North Shore is better equipped to deal with the new housing and population growth accompanying this development.”

“With local stakeholder support, I believe we have reached a plan that will meet the needs of our neighborhoods, but more importantly will be a roadmap to a new investment in Staten Island, and create vital opportunities for the future of our borough,” Rose continued.

Some community members said they were skeptical that the city would keep its promises, and others were upset that the city bargained for Bay Street using promises it had made before.

New density for the North Shore

The proposal calls for rezoning along the Bay Street and Canal Street corridors, which have not seen any zoning changes since 1961.

The Bay Street Corridor is currently a light manufacturing district and the R3X district west of Bay Street is a lower-density residential district for one and two-family detached homes.

The city wants to amend the zoning there to R6B, which applies to traditional row-house districts, and will fall under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program requiring the creation of income-targeted units.

Along the Canal Street Corridor, blocks surrounding Beach Street and Canal Street are currently zoned as R3-2 and R4 districts, allowing for low-rise, multi­family apartment houses and detached and semi-detached one- and two-family residences. The city proposes to change the zoning to R6B for medium-density residential use.

The proposal also includes the development of two city-owned properties, 55 Stuyvesant Place and 539 Jersey Street, for job creation and mixed-use (commercial and residential) development with affordable housing. The two nearby special districts, the Special Stapleton Waterfront District and Special St. George District, will be expanded and remain for commercial, residential and retail use.

In January, Staten Island Community Board 1 voted “no with conditions” against Bay Street rezoning plan.The list of conditions included demands for traffic mitigation, infrastructure, 20 acres of public open space, construction of new schools, additional ferry services and making the proposed renovations to the Cromwell recreation center a separate project with its own funding .

Borough President James Oddo also voted with conditions against the rezoning. It passed the City Planning Commission by an 8-3 margin, a larger display of dissent than typically displayed by that body.

The bargain

According to the points of agreement between Rose and the administration, the Bay Street Corridor rezoning will be accompanied by  an estimated $250 million worth of investments, of which an estimated $100 million will go towards funding for various projects and initiatives  such as a portion of funding for Cromwell Recreation Center and the Tompkinsville waterfront project, sewer upgrades, public realm and street improvements along Bay Street and around the Tompkinsville and Stapleton SIR stations, and improvements to Village Hall at Tappen Park, according to Rose’s office.

The two phases of the Homeport site on the new Stapleton Waterfront will include approximately 600 affordable housing units, with 30 percent of the units in first phase of development for residents making up to 50 percent Area Median Income (which is estimated at $46,950 for a family of three).

Rose has also secured 100 percent affordable housing at 539 Jersey Street (with a minimum of 20 percent of the affordable housing on the site reserved for households making less than 50 percent of AMI and 90 units of senior housing) and the New Stapleton Waterfront Site A, the northernmost development site, will have 100 percent affordability by the end of 2020 with a minimum of 30 percent for Extremely Low and Very Low Income Households (those earning up to 30 percent and up to 50 percent of the Area Median Income, respectively; 30 percent of AMI is $28,170 for a family of three).

The city will plan on implementing existing tenant protection programs such as expanding the Landlord Ambassador Program, which aims to stabilize the physical and financial health of small- and medium-sized multi-family buildings by helping owners navigate the process of applying for HPD financing.

Residents will also have access to an expanded free legal assistance, which already exists in the North Shore under the 2017 Right to Counsel lawin ZIP codes 10302, 10303, 10314 and 10310).

There are also plans for educational workshops and fairs on displacement and resources, and the area will be part of the Certification of No Harassment (CONH) Pilot Program (which requires landlords to meet certain certifications that ensure no harassment has taken place, before they can obtain construction permits to make major alterations). In Staten Island, there are already six buildings under the CONH program between the Stapleton and West Brighton neighborhoods, according to New York Open Data.

The city also plans to launch the HomeFix initiative there, which helps low-income homeowners make critical repairs and stay in their home, an effort to combat  “zombie homes” left over from the 2008 foreclosure crisis.

In order to fight displacement as an impact of the rezoning, Rose said the de Blasio administration has committed to 100 vouchers for North Shore families to move out of shelters into affordable housing in the North Shore. “Several agencies have also committed to dedicated legal services for residents of the North Shore who may face displacement as development occurs,” she said.

The city has also promised to  build a brand new approximately 600-seat school on the waterfront. The School Construction Authority has committed to another new elementary school at the old Hungerford School Site and to build a new annex for P.S.13 to provide additional seats, in addition to the current building on Targee Street.

In the area of business development, the city is planning on developing 55 Stuyvesant Place for a mix of job-generating uses, and has guaranteed prevailing wages for all building service workers in new buildings or buildings that receive one million dollars or more in public financial assistance.

The city will also fund  12 acres of a continuous waterfront esplanade that will include open space amenities such as a children’s playground, basketball court, dog run, picnic area, and comfort stations. Rose said this was a key connection between the proposed new waterfront development and the ferry terminal. The city has also agreed to repair and improve the fountain and hall at Tappen Park.

Addressing transit needs, Rose said the city has agreed to run additional bus services during peak hours alongside the new ferry line which the NYC Economic Development Corporation plans to launch the St. George and Coney Island routes in 2020 and 2021.

Rose had asked to relocate the 120th Precinct because of traffic created by Central Bookings’ location there. The city told Rose the expense of moving the precinct to another location would be too much. Rose said the city did agree to moving Central Bookings to the courthouse. There will also be a full traffic monitoring study to mitigate critical points on Bay Street, such as Victory Boulevard and Central Avenue.

The city will invest an estimated $15 million in necessary sewer infrastructure work along Bay Street to ensure new development does not create flooding or drainage issues. This funding is separate from  $45 million in new sewers, the realignment of Front Street, and utilities at the Stapleton Waterfront.

Last but not least, the city has committed $92 million to the long-awaited reconstruction of the Cromwell Recreation Center, which was located on Pier 6, was shuttered in 2010, heavily damaged by Superstorm Sandy and then demolished.

The city will build a new recreation center at the Lyons Pool site, across the street from former Cromwell site.

According to the points of agreement document, the city has committed to offering a variety of recreational amenities there, which potentially could include sport courts, exercise equipment, multipurpose areas for fitness and dance, and flexible programming spaces that complement the recreational amenities already at Lyons. The City plans on engagement with the community on the design process. The anticipated opening date of the new community center is 2025.

Mixed reactions

“I have secured the necessary funding and commitments for the next chapter of the story of the North Shore,” Rose boasted in her statement. “For too long, planning on Staten Island has been haphazard or nonexistent. Today, we have before us a blueprint for a well-planned future. Through many negotiations over nearly five years, I am pleased to be delivering several critical community investments that respond to the needs of the existing community, while also providing a sustainable path for the future of the North Shore.”

Mayor de Blasio said in a statement that the plan ” will create a more affordable neighborhood that opens the doors of opportunity to residents from all walks of life.”

“This is about making sure kids who grow up on Staten Island can eventually have an apartment in the borough they love, and about making sure there’s affordable and accessible housing for Staten Island seniors, so they can live independently as they age,” de Blasio added. “I am grateful for Councilmember Rose’s partnership and all she has done to fight for the future of Staten Island.”

Staten Island Community Board 1 Land Use Chair Vincent Accornero said the deal Rose struck sounded good as a concept,  but added that his community still has a lot of mistrust from past discontinued city projects such as the New York Wheel, which was halted due to funding issues and a court case, as well as discarded proposals for renovating the Cromwell center.

“I guess the proof is in the action. I remember they said they had this money locked in but somehow this city finds a way to get it. We have had some issues where we have been burned in the past,” said Accornero. The community board will hold a general meeting next week Tuesday to discuss the points of agreement.

Many local organizations and stakeholders felt the Cromwell Rec Center rebuilding should have been  separate from the rezoning package because it was a promise made to the community long before the rezoning plan existed.

Oddo panned the deal. “A repeat of the lack of planning that has plagued Staten Island ever since the opening of the Verrazano Bridge. Today’s decision makers, just like our counterparts of decades ago, will have the benefit of being long gone when the byproducts of their shortsightedness manifest themselves,” tweeted Oddo.

The borough president had also called on the city for a full analysis of services such as police, fire, emergency response, local hospitals and sanitation to quantify how service levels will be affected and if additional funding for those services would be needed to meet the demand of the future 6,500 residents.

Oddo argued in his statement that the $92 million for Cromwell, the funding for the Hungerford site and the $39 million from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for the waterfront, “would have been allocated anyway” and the rezoning “opportunities missed” were tragic.

One complex point of discussion as the plan wound its way through the city’s land-use process was what kind of affordable housing to require under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rule, which compels developers taking advantage of new density to set aside some apartments for specific income groups. Oddo wanted to give developers a choice among Options 1, 2 and 4 under MIH, meaning “affordable” units could serve incomes as high as $93,840 for a family of three.  Oddo also wanted mixed-income housing on city-owned properties.

But community groups whose top concern was wanted the city to authorize fewer options with a deeper skew toward low-income households, and to require 100 percent affordability on city-owned sites. According to Make the Road NY, Staten Island did not have the same housing stock as the rest of the city with mostly two-family homes where some renters who did not have leases were most vulnerable to evictions and rising rents.

Rose said the proposed rezoning aims to use Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Options 1 and 3.  Option 1 requires that 25 percent of units are affordable to families making an average of 60 percent Area Median Income (AMI), or $56,340 for a family of three. Option 2 allows developers to set aside 30 percent of units for families making an average of 80 percent AMI (or $75,120 for a family of three)

Option 3, known as the Deep Affordability Option, requires that 20 percent of the rent-restricted units be affordable to families making 40 percent AMI (or $37,560 for a family of three) and Option 4, known as the Workforce Option, requires that 30 percent of the rent-restricted units are affordable to families making 115 percent AMI (or $112,680 for a family of three) with required percentages at several different income bands. More significantly, Options 3 and 4 cannot be selected by themselves—they must be paired with one or both of the first two options (for more details on MIH read here)

“It’s been a long, long fight,” said Ivan Garcia, who organized with the Staten Island Housing Dignity Coalition. “We still believe there there’s people are going to be displaced.”

Next, the Committee on Land Use will also vote on the Bay Street Corridor proposed rezoning plan before it heads to the entire City Council. 

*Correction: The initial version of this story erroneously reported that R6B zoning includes buildings up to 13 stories; in fact, R6B zoning has a 55-foot height limit, but R6 zoning—which is also part of the rezoning—could reach 13 stories.

 

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