(Update appended below at 4:45 p.m. 1/14)
The Bushwick rezoning has come to a standstill, with the de Blasio administration and Bushwick stakeholders at odds with each other over competing visions for how to channel development in the Brooklyn neighborhood.
As it has before in East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, Jerome Avenue, Bay Street and Inwood, the de Blasio administration has proposed a neighborhood-wide rezoning for Bushwick aimed at creating new housing supply, some of it income-targeted or “affordable.” The city’s plan, released last April, came on the heels of a “Bushwick Community Plan,” drawn up by a group of neighborhood stakeholders and envisioning a different role for new density.
Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal were key drivers of the community plan and recently demanded that the city incorporate their plan as an alternative in the looming environmental review process.
The de Blasio administration has rejected that request.
Deputy Mayor Vicki Been wrote a letter Friday (a full copy is below) to the two Councilmembers saying the Bushwick Community Plan missed a significant opportunity to create new affordable housing. Been wrote:
“I am deeply concerned that the Bushwick Community Plan calls for ‘No more total units than the no-action scenario would produce, unless those additional units are deeply affordable.’ This approach is fundamentally a downzoning. It would reduce density significantly in many areas while spurring the creation of few new homes, deeply affordable or otherwise, in others. These outcomes runs counter to the city’s goals of the rezoning, which would be to encourage new-mixed-income housing to prevent displacement spurred by current market forces while promoting a diverse, healthy and inclusive neighborhood and city. For this reason, the city does not support the inclusion of the environmental review of the Bushwick Community Plan in our environmental review.”
The city’s environmental review process produces the environmental impact statement (EIS) a document analyzing the potential impacts of a land-use change. It has to be substantially underway before the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure–the seven-month public review required before land-use changes like rezonings can be approved–can begin.
The rezoning study area is an approximately 300-block area of Bushwick bounded by Wyckoff Avenue and Irving Avenue to the north, Moffat and Vanderveer streets to the east, Broadway to the south, and Flushing Avenue to the west.
In addition to limiting the amount of new market-rate housing to what would occur if current zoning were left in place, the Community Plan differs from the city plan in its focus on preserving one- to three-family homes in the residential mid-blocks and protecting manufacturing districts. It also insists that no parcels on Broadway be given the zoning designation R8A, where building heights can reach up to 14 stories, except for 100 percent affordable development on public sites.
Under the Community Plan restriction on new market-rate development to what is already permitted, its authors estimated that it would result in creating new capacity of 1,500 to 2,000 units, all affordable.
Churches United for Fair Housing, a member of the Bushwick Community Plan steering committee, said in an emailed statement to City Limits that it was “disappointed that the city has demonstrated, yet again, a lack of interest in supporting community driven planning efforts.”
Their statement continued:
“The Bushwick Community Plan’s principle of not creating more housing units than could be built under the current zoning unless those units were deeply and permanently affordable was a central element of the community’s plan to ensure that creating affordable housing did not result in the displacement of existing residents and exacerbate the existing racial inequities that stem from decades of disinvestment and racist land use policies. Bushwick deserves, and needs, capital investments from the city and should not be held hostage and forced to implement a rezoning plan they do not support to have access to public investment.”
In a scathing letter (a full copy is below) to the city Monday morning, Espinal and Reynoso said the mayor’s decision to walk away from the community’s plan was “shameful” after his agencies worked with the Bushwick community since 2014. It read in part:
“When we began the process of developing a community-based plan for Bushwick, we could have never imagined that Bushwick would receive a level of apathy from our local government reminiscent of the policies that left Bushwick to burn in the 1970’s. We remain committed to our community’s vision as outlined in the BCP – nothing that affects Bushwick will be determined without Bushwick.”
The letter also said that Bushwick was facing severe displacement and development that needs mitigating policies and rejected the “downzoning” assertion made in Been’s letter.
In a Monday afternoon interview with City Limits, Reynoso said that the BCP plan actually would have created more affordable housing. He said the Bushwick community plan would have created 6,000 housing units and of that an estimated 2,000 would have been dedicated to affordable housing units, unlike the city’s rezoning proposal, which would only create 1,800 would affordable housing units. Reynoso’s office said the Bushwick community plan does not remove any residential capacity.
The Department of City Planning projects the city’s proposed rezoning of Bushwick could lead to an increase of 5,613 units of housing, which includes 1,873 permanently affordable housing units–although the income levels for those units have yet to be defined.
Altogether, the area could also see an additional 17,849 residents and 6,116 workers in the neighborhood over the next 10 years, according to draft scope, a document describing the details of a land-use action and outlining the methods the city will use to study the project’s potential impacts, which are generally further detailed in the EIS.
The de Blasio administration says the ball is now in the Councilmembers’ court and the administration wants to continue the discussions it has had with the Bushwick community over the last few years.
In a statement, the de Blasio administration told City Limits, “We recognize the housing pressures Bushwick has faced, which is why we cannot in good faith move forward with a plan that will only accelerate the rise in rents and leave longtime residents without new affordable homes to turn to. This administration has aggressively pursued every opportunity to create more affordable housing and protect tenants – from rent freezes, to a record number of homes created and preserved under our housing plan and providing free legal services to New Yorkers facing eviction. We stand ready to continue conversations with the community and Council Members about ways to invest in this community and ensure it gets the housing it needs.”
Reynoso said the next step will be to get feedback from the Bushwick Community Plan steering committee. But he saw little room for compromise, “We gave them the plan, the community came to them and said we are willing to go through this grueling process and then they gave them a plan and then they said no thank you,” said Reynoso. “What conversation is there?”
Both the de Blasio plan and the Community Plan embrace growth, something hard-line rezoning opponents in the neighborhood are hoping to block altogether.
Bushwick is one of two rezonings on the de Blasio administration’s docket right now; another is in Gowanus, which is also awaiting the start of environmental review. The Southern Boulevard area of the Bronx could be presented with a rezoning proposal, but the de Blasio administration says no decision has been made.
Late Tuesday, Community Board 4—a member of the steering committee that crafted the Community Plan—issued its own response (read it below).
“It is a shame the mayor’s office has chosen to walk away from six years of work and partnership, although it is not unexpected,” it read in part. “Bushwick’s history beyond the blackout, fires, drugs, and crime is one of resilience, advocacy, and tenacity. We have always had to fight for our needs, and this time it’s no different.”