Corey Johnson and Debi Rose

John McCarten

Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Staten Island Councilmember Debi Rose embrace on the Council floor.

The City Council approved the Bay Street Corridor rezoning Wednesday in City Hall with two dissenting votes against the city’s plan to rezone 20 blocks of Staten Island’s North Shore, a move that could lead to 1,800 new units of housing, including 1,300 income-targeted apartments.

There were 44 votes in favor of the rezoning plan and two votes, by Staten Island Republican Councilmembers Steve Matteo and Joseph Borelli, against the plan.

The only other Councilmember from the Island, Debi Rose, shepherded the plan through negotiations with the city and supported it strongly. “After years of community engagement, planning, planning and planning, the Bay Street Rezoning is finally before us for a vote. This long-term plan for Stapleton and Tompkinsville will transform them into neighborhoods residents have been asking for: vibrant, diverse, walkable and well-planned, with housing for a range of income levels with all the infrastructure residents deserve,” said Rose before the vote.

“This has not been an easy process but I pursued it willingly to address the pressing need for housing, and to secure the public investments we have long deserved,” she said. “Too many people are fearful that rising housing costs across the city will someday force them from their longtime neighborhoods. These fears are real, and this plan addresses them.”

The Bay Street Corridor package

The Bay Street Corridor rezoning will be accompanied by an estimated $250 million worth of investments, including funding for rebuilding the Cromwell Recreation Center, sewer upgrades, 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 rezoning proposal aims to spur development of 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 area 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; new housing there 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 R6 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, Councilwoman Rose said.

Options 1 and 3 of the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program would apply to the rezoning area. 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 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).

Rose 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).

A contentious process

In January, Staten Island Community Board 1 rejected the proposal “with conditions”and in February, Borough President James Oddo followed suit by also rejecting the proposal “with conditions” (with the exception of the city-owned property at 539 Jersey Street, which was approved “with conditions” as long as the attached mandatory inclusionary housing options were more inclusive).

Earlier this month, the City Council’s Zoning and Franchises sub-committee and Land Use Committee voted unanimously in favor of the rezoning.

After Wednesday’s passage, the Staten Island Housing Dignity Coalition said in an email statement that it was “pleased to have a more equitable rezoning which will bring affordable housing to a neighborhood which is in desperate need of it.”

“From day one, we have said that this rezoning needs to serve everyone, including the neediest families on Staten Island,” the coalition said. “This rezoning will do just that. In a city which has a housing crisis, this rezoning will bring over 1,000 affordable units through MIH and public sites. None of this would have been possible without Councilmember Rose’ leadership and the valiant effort of the members of our coalition.”

But the Coalition said their work is not finished and they will be keeping track of tenant harassment and evictions in the area.

Matteo and Borelli said the rezoning proposal will lead to overcrowding and congestion in the North Shore.

“Unfortunately, the final agreement does not go far enough to adequately address the numerous infrastructure and traffic concerns. I continue to believe this rezoning will have an adverse impact, not only on the area rezoned, but on surrounding communities that will have to deal with the effects of increased congestion for decades to come,” said Matteo in an email statement to City Limits.

After the vote, Borelli said “The net negatives outweigh the net positives.” Borelli said his constituents travel through the Bay Street Corridor for access to transit and highways, “My constituents travel there to get access to the ferry, some to the Verrazano Bridge and we share the same highways. There is no mass transit infrastructure outside of the ferry and express buses and the train—so it’s all interconnected. The idea that people will move to this development and not need cars is asinine.”

Many skeptics of the deal argued that the investments Rose won were owed to—and might even have already been promised to—the community before the rezoning was even on the table. They feel the mayor paid for a new deal with old IOUs. “How much of this deal is a deal?” asked Priscilla Marco from Van Duzer Street Civic Association.

Bay Street represents the sixth rezoning achieved by the de Blasio administration, which has pursued a strategy of adding density to particular city neighborhoods in order to create more housing, both market-rate and income-targeted. East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, Jerome Avenue and Inwood have been rezoned already. Proposals to rezone Bushwick and Gowanus are under public review, and a rezoning of part of the Southern Boulevard Corridor in the Bronx is also possible.

De Blasio initially set out to rezone as many as 15 neighborhoods as part of his plan to build or preserve 300,000 units of income-targeted housing, but it is unclear whether the administration will pursue neighborhood-wide rezonings beyond the current list of nine.