Rezoning Changing NYC

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

No “causal link” between rezonings and gentrification​

De Blasio administration, Council members tussle over racial disparity bill
The debate at a City Council hearing on Monday largely revolved around a single question: Do New York City’s rezonings cause displacement?
According to the de Blasio administration, the answer is no.

“We maintain that we can’t find any causal link between our rezonings and gentrification,” said Anita Laremont, the executive director of the Department of City Planning.

The hearing, held by the Council’s land use committee, focused on a bill that would require certain rezonings to include a racial disparity analysis detailing neighborhood demographics and residents’ ability to afford housing built as part of the zoning change.
Some officials criticized what they described as the administration’s unwillingness to analyze the long-term effects of rezonings.

“To try to pretend that the rezoning of the city doesn’t have an outsized impact is just wild to me,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who introduced the bill in May 2019.
Bronx Council member Rafael Salamanca Jr., who chairs the committee and is one of the bill’s primary sponsors, cited a 2019 report that detailed population shifts in Williamsburg and Greenpoint after the neighborhoods were rezoned. The report, released by Churches United for Fair Housing, found that between 2000 and 2015, the population in both neighborhoods increased by more than 20,000, but decreased by 15,000 Latino residents.

However, the area was rezoned in 2005, so the report included data that predated the rezoning by five years — and the construction that followed by seven. City Planning conducted its own study, which found that the rezoned area actually saw a reversal in a decline in its Hispanic population that started in 1990.
“We have different perspectives on what happened there,” Laremont said. “We don’t see it as being a rezoning that led to displacement.”

“This is why I think this bill is crucial,” Salamanca responded.
Laremont said City Planning is committed to working with the City Council on the legislation and pointed to the administration’s “Where We Live NYC” plan, which she said has a similar goal. She also noted that the city started working with an outside consultant to analyze systemic racism in the city.

But, Laremont said, the “greatest disparities in New York City exist across and between neighborhoods, rather than within them,” and that multiple forces contribute to displacement.
Even before the initial version of the racial disparity bill was proposed, housing activists were calling for an overhaul of the land use review process. A community coalition challenged the 2018 Inwood rezoning, alleging that the city should have analyzed the plan’s potential socioeconomic impact.

The courts ultimately sided with the city, but indicated that the coalition could seek a legislative remedy, a point that one of its members, Paul Epstein, noted during Monday’s hearing.
“Well, here we are,” he said.
At the start of the hearing, Williams also proposed revamping the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program to require deeper affordability options — specifically, requiring that 75 percent of residential floor area be set aside for tenants earning between 50 and 70 percent of the area median income.

Under the current program, 25 to 30 percent of apartments must be set aside as permanently affordable, and AMI ranges can be between 60 and 120 percent, depending on the option chosen. Such a change would likely require separate legislation.
The de Blasio administration has said that requiring deeper affordability would render projects uneconomical without heavy subsidies and risk generating no housing at all.

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Gowanus rezoning on hold — for now
A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 27

A state Supreme Court judge has temporarily halted the Gowanus rezoning proposal.
The City Planning Commission can’t certify the rezoning application until after a hearing is held on Jan. 27, according to an order signed by Judge Donald Kurtz on Friday. The order was in response to a lawsuit filed last week by a coalition of neighborhood groups seeking to block City Planning from certifying the application, which would kick off the city’s seven-month land use review.

“This is a huge relief to our clients and many other community members, who have serious concerns about the lack of equity, access and transparency around the project, and want a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” attorney Jason Zakai, who represents one of the groups in the coalition, Voice of Gowanus.
The city is seeking to rezone 80 blocks in the Brooklyn neighborhood, which would pave the way for the construction of an estimated 8,200 residential units, of which 3,000 would be affordable. Though the city is keen to complete the rezoning before the end of the de Blasio administration, it has yet to commit to including capital funding for two local New York City Housing Authority developments as part of its proposal. Support from Brooklyn Council members Brad Lander and Steve Levin hinges on this funding, and the rezoning hinges on their backing.

The lawsuit claims that it is unlawful for the city to move forward with the Gowanus rezoning because it would need to hold hearings virtually rather than in-person. Doing so as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure would wrongfully “deprive” community members “the opportunity to physically attend public hearings alongside like-minded attendees and show solidarity in support of a certain position with respect to the Massive Rezoning.”

The complaint also alleges that City Planning failed to send application materials to local community boards and the Brooklyn borough president in a timely fashion, as required under Ulurp.
Despite its failure to adequately notify the public, City Planning expected to certify the Gowanus rezoning application on Jan. 19, according to the lawsuit.

In response to the judge’s order, a representative for the mayor’s office said the city is looking forward to “winning this case, beginning certification, and delivering a rezoning proposal New York City can be proud of.”
“If it were easy to bring affordable housing to Gowanus and clean up the canal, then someone would’ve done it already,” Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for the city said in a statement. “Virtual meetings aren’t just legal and obviously appropriate in a pandemic – they have increased participation and opened the process to those unable to attend in person.”

Throughout the pandemic, various government bodies, including the City Council, have held public meetings remotely. Last year, concerns were raised about the city’s Rent Guidelines Board going virtual with its meetings. The board’s tenant representatives had called for the hearings to be delayed, saying virtual proceedings would prevent crucial interactions between tenants and board members. Those hearings, however, ultimately moved forward.

“Look, this is a pandemic. [The Gowanus coalition’s case] sounds like the arguments that you can only vote in person, that you can’t vote by mail,” said Gary Tarnoff, co-chair of Kramer Levin’s land use department. “People who are opposed to this are just grasping for straws, in my view.”

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

Once the Gowanus Canal Is Rid of ‘Black Mayonnaise,’ Who Will Benefit?​

The city may approve a plan in Brooklyn that is one of the biggest rezoning projects in memory. But the debate is not playing out in predictable ways.
Earlier this week, as if an omen sent from the gods of city planning, a barge carrying toxic sediment nearly sank in Gowanus Bay. It was loaded with the “black mayonnaise” dredged up from the Gowanus Canal, sludge that appeared to be in the midst of a dangerous round trip — potentially recontaminating the water that was so slowly being cleaned up after so long. Designated a Superfund site by the federal government in 2010, the canal is a graveyard to industrial sins committed for more than a century.

The filth has not deterred the real estate industry, which sees in every natural asset the potential for leverage. Where a chemist might see poison, the investor so often conjures a room with a view. For decades now, developers have sketched their fantasies onto the waterway’s immediate surrounding area, 20 or so blocks in the middle of brownstone Brooklyn at the nexus of warehouse chic and rowhouse cozy. The will to overlook the downsides has been fierce. Five years ago, a single empty lot near the canal sold for just under $3 million, or roughly $340 per buildable square foot.

At that point, a grand development agenda had already been set in motion to update a neighborhood of metal fabricators, wood shops, a tour-bus parking lot, artists’ studios, a manufacturer of coffins and, in more recent years, the encroachment of luxury apartments. Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials joined developers in imagining high-rises with thousands of new residents — some well-off, others not. Eventually, a proposal emerged that put the neighborhood on the path to one of the biggest rezoning projects in the modern history of New York. As ever, the future hangs on whose vision will prevail.

In recent days, as city officials move closer toward approving the plan, activists opposing it have sued, hoping to slow things down long enough so that the next mayor might re-evaluate it or perhaps abandon it all together.

Alignments and conflicts in the community are not playing out in predictable ways. A prominent local arts group, for example, supports the rezoning, believing it will help rebalance a neighborhood with a 22 percent net decrease in rent stabilized housing stock between 2007 and 2014. Gowanus is already a place with a rock-climbing gym, a Whole Foods and a place to buy $42 salted caramel apple pie.

If the real-estate class finds itself with unlikely allies, it is because of a broadening recognition of how just central mixed communities are to racial and social equality. Fair housing is the starting point.

On one side of the debate are those who see the housing crisis, which has been made only worse by the pandemic, as the city’s paramount challenge. They believe that any effort to bring modestly priced apartments to the area is worth whatever other sacrifices might come. On the other are leftists of an old guard — teachers, public-interest lawyers, artists — who, in many cases, have lived in the neighborhood for decades and largely been mischaracterized as NIMBYs. They are the early readers of “Silent Spring,” those who look around at a landscape subject to so much environmental abuse and wonder why so many other people are being encouraged to live amid so many unknowns.

In many ways, the plan is much more sensitive to progressive social goals than similar efforts have been. Often during the past 20 years, politicians have alienated the communities they hope to refashion by minimally engaging them in the planning process and then capitulating to the demands of developers, extracting far too little value in return.

These disputes are as common in New York as traffic, and they typically reach the point of heated collision when a developer is permitted to build luxury towers in a neighborhood with rapidly changing demographics simply if it commits to making 20 percent of them “affordable.” Increasingly, these affordable units don’t even have to be on the site in question. Very often they end up somewhere else in the city, where land is cheaper, foregoing any potential benefit of economically integrated communities. Generally, “affordable” has meant unaffordable to the working poor.
The Gowanus plan relies on more favorable ratios. Of the 8,000 units to be built over the next decade, more than a third will be reserved for lower-income individuals and families. Some two-bedroom apartments would cost as little as $850 a month. There will be apartments designated for those currently living in shelters or on the street or those who require supportive housing. According to Brad Lander, the city councilman for Gowanus and a chief proponent of the plan, more will be required of developers in exchange for the tax breaks that come to them.
Mr. Lander has also insisted that the city contribute tens of millions of dollars toward repairs necessary in the projects belonging to the New York City Housing Authority situated in and around Gowanus. This is something the community has asked for all along during the many years that rezoning has been discussed.
The real issue here is that 950 units of low-income housing would be built on an enormous city-owned lot — known alternately as Public Place or Gowanus Green — where coal-gas had been manufactured from the mid-19th century through the middle of the 20th. Of the three coal-gas plants that were in Gowanus, two of them, according to Maureen Koetz, a longtime environmental lawyer who has been consulting for those opposing development, were categorized as Class 2 in the early 2000s, meaning that they had been deemed to present a significant threat to public and environmental health. (Class 1 is the most dangerous.)

Currently, the proposed housing site is undergoing cleanup of various hazardous byproducts of manufactured gas, paid for by the public utility company that inherited the problem long ago. “The general practice is not to put housing, or schools for that matter, on these remediated sites,’’ Ms. Koetz told me. “If you are in a warehouse or shopping or in a park, you are there for a limited amount of time so you’re not getting that much exposure.”

In the mid-1940s, when we knew less about environmental toxins, Stuyvesant Town, the sprawling middle-class housing complex on the East River, was built on a defunct coal-gas site. If anyone has ever studied cancer rates over the long term there, this would be the time for the city to reflect on the data and make it known.

At a neighborhood meeting in December, Christos Tsiamis, a chemical engineer managing the cleanup of the canal for the Environmental Protection Agency, warned that compounds even 15 feet below the surface of the gas site will volatilize as a result of construction and could, within a decade, find a pathway into buildings and accumulate, potentially endangering the people who will live in them.

“Nobody who had the resources to live somewhere else would choose to be there,’’ said Penn Rhodeen, a former children’s aid lawyer involved with the activist group Voice of Gowanus. “So it becomes an issue of environmental morality.”

The fight against the Gowanus plan is unfolding at a moment when anti-development activists in New York have been able to claim major victories. Two years ago, they repelled plans for Amazon’s headquarters in Queens. More recently, in Brooklyn’s Industry City, they prevented the kind of rezoning that would have delivered far greater benefits to big business than to the working class.

There is no way to downplay the city’s housing emergency. But it is a dubious proposition to continually market “sustainability” and “resilience” as civic virtues if you cannot assure the most economically vulnerable that the places where you invite them to live won’t eventually make them sick. The current mayoral administration disgraced itself with its deceptions around lead paint in public housing. Why would it proceed now with anything but the greatest vigilance?

The barge accident this week provides a symbolic reminder of history’s relentless talent for payback. By the late 19th century, the Gowanus Canal had become the receptacle for waste from the coal-gas plants, paper factories, masonries, farms and other entities nearby. In 1889, a special commission was dispatched to study the effects of the dumping. It recommended that the canal close because it was such an obvious threat to public health — “a disgrace to Brooklyn.’’

The cost of doing so was going to come in at about $75,000. Everyone decided it was too much.

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

When NIMBYs attack: Why CoJo’s master plan won’t fly​

Speaker would put city’s future in hands of experts, not local cranks​

Corey Johnson’s comprehensive planning bill will never pass, for the same reason all such bills never pass: It dilutes the power of neighborhood cranks and naive ideologues to stop new housing.
Predictably, a coalition of the city’s leading NIMBY groups blasted the City Council speaker’s proposal Thursday as a “top-down approach that would leave communities with even less democratic control over massive city rezonings” than they have now.

Well, yes. That is exactly the point.
Not to be anal, but this is not a direct democracy. It’s a republic. We elect leaders, who in turn run the government. We don’t let people with pitchforks decide what can be built where.

The reason is obvious: Left to their own devices, locals make decisions in their own interests, not those of society at large.
For example, limiting the supply of new homes will make your own more valuable, because shoppers will have fewer options. It also spares you from the annoyances of construction — noise, dust, ugliness — costs that the people who move in never have to bear.

When you think about these issues the way economists do, they become clear. Figure out who bears the costs and who reaps the benefits and you can predict how people will respond.

Urban planners and good-government types have been talking for decades about comprehensive planning, knowing that when localities make choices, they never sacrifice for the greater good.
Case in point: It would make sense for the metro area to transport goods by rail to Maspeth, where they could be loaded onto small trucks for short trips to stores in the city and on Long Island. But in that scenario, Maspeth bears the cost of more truck traffic, while the benefits — fewer overall truck trips, lower emissions, longer-lasting roads and bridges — are spread across the region. You can’t blame Maspeth for opposing that plan. That is why top-down planning is essential.

There are other advantages: A more predictable approval process would lower costs for developers, who currently might spend $1 million or more to get a single rezoning through the City Council. And sometimes the local Council member, who singularly controls the fate of rezonings, makes extreme demands or simply says no. Developers compensate for bearing those costs and risks by planning apartments with high profit margins — and the opponents demanding affordability wonder why.

Johnson’s scheme, in a nutshell, simplifies the process by having planning experts decide what could go where, and any project meeting those terms would be approved. The point is not just to lower costs but to have development where it makes sense — near mass transit and other infrastructure that supports it.
“This is a very top-down, dictatorial process,” the NIMBY coalition declared. “For comprehensive planning to be truly democratic it cannot be decided and fast-tracked by those appointed by the mayor.”

But for reasons just explained, comprehensive planning cannot be truly democratic. It would be like letting people decide individually how much tax to pay: Each would pay less than he is paying now, leaving the government unable to provide services and systems that benefit society as a whole.
New York’s lone YIMBY group, Open New York, thinks Johnson’s plan should go further because “it fails to address longstanding practices that allow wealthier neighborhoods to block new housing and shunt demand elsewhere,” said board member Will Thomas.

He was disgusted but hardly surprised by the letter from the anti-development groups including Village Preservation, Voice of Gowanus, Stop Sunnyside Yards, Soho Alliance and the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
“We encourage legislators interested in more equitable city planning to ignore complaints by wealthy NIMBYs who are primarily interested in protecting the status quo,” Thomas said.

Johnson’s plan is a noble gesture that will end up in the ever-growing graveyard of comprehensive planning proposals. But it serves a purpose by keeping the flame alive on a crucial issue, not to mention sparking some entertaining Twitter exchanges.
“As a lifelong resident of Bayside, I’m appalled by the introduction of legislation that robs our communities of the power to have a say in housing development and forces us to accept a system that thoughtlessly adds density,” tweeted Austin Shafran, a City Council candidate.

“Funny thing about Bayside…” someone responded, noting that the neighborhood was ranked among the most expensive housing markets in the nation for comparable detached homes.
Rest assured, whoever wins the seat in Bayside will vote to keep it that way.

John Walkup

Talking Manhattan on
"When you think about these issues the way economists do, they become clear. Figure out who bears the costs and who reaps the benefits and you can predict how people will respond."


David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

De Blasio administration comes out against NYC Council proposal to simplify city planning​

The de Blasio administration is opposing a City Council proposal to simplify the process for future development, saying legislation from Council Speaker Corey Johnson would be way too expensive.
The bill, scheduled for a Council hearing on Wednesday, would cost the city about half a billion dollars per decade, the administration estimates — and that at a time of shrinking tax revenues due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In the administration’s reading of the bill, every community district in the city would have to undergo assessments of three different development scenarios every 10 years. With an average “environmental impact assessment” costing $2.5 million to carry out, and the city having 59 community districts, that comes to about $450 million per decade, according to the administration.
It also estimates the cost of staffing the undertaking would add another $50 million, not counting costs to the Office of Management and Budget.

De Blasio officials including Planning Commissioner Marissa Lago are expected to testify against Johnson’s bill on Wednesday.
Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, previously said that his legislation would ensure communities get their say from the start of the city planning process and unify development schemes currently spread across several agencies.

“This is streamlining the process. It’s creating coordination. It’s creating more transparency,” he said at a December press conference. “Fifty-nine community boards will be asked proactively, what do you think needs to happen in your district, and then ultimately it will come to the Council.”

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

Debate flares up over Johnson’s planning overhaul​

Critics of speaker’s proposal concerned about role of City Council​

The city’s land use and planning process is not perfect — on that much, the City Council and de Blasio administration seem to agree.
But the City Planning Commission criticizes the Council for blocking affordable housing projects and rezonings, while Council members say the process fails to take a long-term view of community needs.
During a heated, day-long hearing Tuesday, City Planning Commissioner Marisa Lago testified against City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s proposal to create a 10-year planning cycle for the city, calling it infeasible and expensive. The administration estimates that environmental reviews alone would cost half a billion dollars.

Lago said the plan would create a “top-down approach” to land-use decisions, in which the City Council would have even more sway over plans for their districts and be more likely to override the wishes of community boards. Anti-development groups used similar language in objecting to the proposal last week.
Lago repeatedly cited member deference — the tradition of the City Council to fall in line with the local member on land-use decisions — as the guiding force behind actions the administration pursues.

Without buy-in from the local Council member, proposals are dead on arrival. For that reason, Lago said, the administration only pursues land-use actions in communities that have signaled support. The speaker’s proposal, she predicted, would hamstring city planners even more.
Under Johnson’s bill, at least three land-use scenarios would be drafted for each district. The City Council would pick one after receiving input from borough presidents, community boards and the public.

City Council members would not be required to vote on rezoning applications, but could choose to — which Lago said they almost certainly would, effectively adding another “veto point.”
“It basically provides yet another impediment to the construction of affordable housing,” Lago said.
Johnson objected to the cost estimates, saying the measure would streamline the planning process and allow the city to more effectively budget for the needs of each district. He repeatedly asserted that his proposal increases the amount of community involvement in land use and planning decisions and said Lago was misrepresenting the language of his bill.

The Council speaker also pushed back against the idea that the bill would effectively end single-family zoning in the city, resulting in some existing homes being razed to make way for denser housing.
He also called the current process a top-down approach, saying City Planning asks community members to consider zoning proposals that are already “fully baked.”

“This was supposed to be the administration that ended the Tale of Two Cities,” Johnson said, referring to the mayor’s campaign promise to fight inequality. “It doesn’t seem like you all want to do the hard work that we think is necessary.”
Johnson noted that the pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color and that hospitals in some of these neighborhoods were replaced by luxury housing.

“What makes you pause and think maybe we’re doing something wrong here?” he asked.
Other City Council members asked Lago versions of the same question throughout the hearing: What would she do to increase community involvement and address inequities exacerbated by land-use decisions?
Many admonished her for not answering the question directly. Some members defended member deference as key to protecting the interests of their constituents.
Council member Antonio Reynoso criticized the fact that City Planning abandoned its push to rezone Bushwick after he and Council member Rafael Espinal demanded that the agency study an alternative community proposal that called for deeply affordable housing and fewer units.
That plan called for only 2,000 units, all of them affordable. The city’s plan called for nearly the same number of such units, but also more than 3,000 others to subsidize the affordable ones.

Reynoso said the community showed willingness to work with City Planning, but the agency had an all-or-nothing approach, resulting in no affordable housing being built. The agency, he said, chose to “relegate the community to destruction by gentrification.”
Council member Brad Lander, a sponsor of Johnson’s bill, cited the proposal to rezone Gowanus — which he said has “taken the better part of a decade” to get underway — as a reason for reform. He said the city’s land use process has become “toxic and broken.”

Council member Deneek Miller said he was concerned that the bill does not adequately increase community involvement in city planning. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer testified that the bill could achieve certain planning goals, but voiced concern that it “doesn’t put communities at the center of the planning process.”
She also addressed criticism of the proposal to rezone Soho, blaming the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program for an inadequate level of affordable housing in the plan.

The Real Estate Board of New York testified that it supports some of the goals laid out by Johnson, but that the bill fails to “establish a framework to resolve competing priorities between localized community needs and the citywide goals.”
The industry group also highlighted that City Council members likely won’t forego their ability to have the final say on rezoning applications.

“The Council is not a mere bystander, but a principal in the current land-use process,” the group wrote in prepared testimony. “This legislation does not address this underlying principle.”

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

De Blasio wades into Gowanus rezoning, seeks dismissal of lawsuit​

Administration says mayor’s executive order ends debate about virtual hearings​

The de Blasio administration is urging the court to dismiss a lawsuit holding up the rezoning of Gowanus, saying a recent executive order negates claims that hearings must be held in person.
In a legal filing Wednesday, the city pointed to a March 13 executive order signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio suspending rules that community board hearings for the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure must be at a “place of convenient public assembly.”

Community groups fighting the rezoning have demanded the city postpone the rezoning approval process until in-the-flesh hearings return.

An attorney for the city, Rachel Ramirez-Guest, argued that the groups’ claims didn’t hold water even before the executive order, but that the mayor’s action eliminates any ambiguity on the matter.
“We’re urging the court to dismiss this case because there is no legal basis to support these claims,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department, said in a statement.

He noted that virtual meetings have increased public participation. “This litigation is preventing community voices from being heard and is delaying the creation of jobs, housing, open spaces, and a number of other community amenities.” (A final benefits agreement between the administration and the local City Council members, Brad Lander and Steve Levin, has not been reached.)

Jason Zakai, an attorney for plaintiff Voice of Gowanus, issued a statement calling the executive order “an obvious and desperate attempt to bypass the judicial process.”
A state judge in January temporarily halted the application to rezone 80 blocks of Gowanus in response to the suit, which argues hearings on the proposal can’t be held remotely under city rules. The complaint also accused City Planning of violating new regulations around notifying the public of its intention to move forward with a rezoning application.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Katherine Levine has indicated that she thinks the city provided ample notice. And while she has supported the idea of finding ways to increase public access to the process, she has repeatedly said that remote hearings are an unavoidable part of the pandemic.
The city is now calling on the coalition to show why the judge shouldn’t dismiss its lawsuit. At a minimum, the city wants the judge to allow the rezoning application to be certified and move forward through the Ulurp process.

Supporters of the rezoning are worried that the lawsuit will delay the seven-month process enough so that it cannot be completed before de Blasio, Lander and Levin leave office at the end of the year, which would throw the outcome into doubt.

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
City Must Ensure All Can Give Public Testimony Before Crown Heights Rezoning Can Resume
Citing the difficulties of accessing virtual community meetings for those without Internet access, a Brooklyn judge upheld a temporary restraining order against the controversial Spice Factory rezoning at 960 Franklin Avenue — saying the city needed to provide a platform for everyone to voice their opinions before she would allow the Botanic Garden-adjacent towers to move ahead.
“I will not allow this thing to go forward until you get your act together and make sure that everyone who wants to speak, including Brooklyn Botanic Garden, members of the board, and everybody else can have their two-minute spiel,” said Kings County Supreme Court Justice Katherine Levine at a virtual hearing on March 18. “The TRO is going to be there until we find a way to proceed.”
Developer Continuum Company is looking to rezone across from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to build two buildings over 30 stories high, along with various other towers between 16 and 20 stories. The project has generated considerable controversy due to the potential threat it poses to the garden, which has been vocal in its opposition to the project — including their “Fight For Sunlight” campaign.

Levine granted the temporary restraining order against the rezoning on March 2 after neighborhood activists filed suit, arguing that virtual meetings — newly part of the the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) due to COVID — barred those without access to high-speed Internet, especially in the low to moderate income neighborhood of Crown Heights, which the mega-development would affect.
“These are elderly people, they do not have computer savvy, they do not have computers,” said neighborhood activist Alicia Boyd on March 18. “They are on fixed incomes, they make $15,000 a year, they can’t even afford to have Internet access.”

During the follow-up hearing on Thursday, Levine stuck to her guns, saying the city should provide a COVID-safe gathering space for people in the community to gather and tune into the virtual hearings.
“It seems to me that one way to deal with people who don’t have Internet is to provide a community space with social distancing and lots of hand sanitizer, so somebody can go onto the computer, and they can all hang out and look at it,” Levine said.

Levine suggested setting up a number of computer stations at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, a large college campus near the Botanic Garden that has been used for previous community meetings, as well as a vaccine mega-site during the pandemic.
Lawyers for Bruce Eichner’s Continuum Company said the firm supports the idea and is willing to help provide resources to set up a community space.
“They are willing to set up the community center that you suggested,” said Jennifer Recine. “We want — and I cannot convey this strongly enough — we want to provide a forum for people and the community to participate as robustly as possible.”

Attorneys for the developer argued that the land-use process should be resumed while they develop a plan to set up a community center — but were refuted by Levine, who said the temporary restraining order would remain until a concrete plan was hatched.
“I am not going to lift the TRO on holding the ULURP until we have a mechanism in place,” Levine said.
Levine is also the judge in a similar case concerning the neighborhood-wide Gowanus rezoning — where opponents have advocated for a halt of all rezonings until in-person meetings can resume.

City lawyers most recently argued in the Gowanus case that an executive order signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, officially designating virtual hearings as legal, mandates that the anti-rezoning case and ones like it should be thrown out, but Levine said on March 18 that she would “not be dealing” with the executive order.
If approved, the Botanic Garden-adjacent tower project would bring 1,578 rental units, half of which would be designated “affordable.” An alternate proposed rezoning for the site would allow for towers topping out at 17 stories, with 1,170 total rental apartments, 292 of which would be designated “affordable.”

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

New York City Promises Affordability Through Rezoning But Delivers Gentrification​

Dozens of neighborhoods in New York City have been upzoned based on contrived, and even false, claims made by the city, which promised more diversity, affordable housing, minimum displacement, and other worthy goals. None of those projections materialized, but this is never acknowledged. Worse, the upzoning created the opposite conditions: less diversity, fewer affordable units, and whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. This, too, is never acknowledged. But the damage is done—and developers are having their way—following the new zoning. Then it’s onto the next neighborhood, with the same approach.

The official story promoted by the city about planning and development is really about gaslighting, convincing the world something is different from what it really is. Now comes the proposed upzoning of SoHo/NoHo. This proposal is a textbook example of the city at its most disingenuous. The SoHo/NoHo scheme is based on the same false assumptions and untruths.

In good gaslighting tradition, for example, the city doesn’t reveal that the SoHo/NoHo zoning district includes part of Chinatown, and will impact even more of that neighborhood. In the argument for diversity, it won’t tell us that 40% of the current neighborhood is already nonwhite, including 28.4% Asian. The city claims there will be little or no displacement, but it’s not telling us that 635 rent-stabilized units in 105 buildings within the rezoning district have been identified as threatened by displacement. These units are disproportionately occupied by Chinese and Chinese American residents and, due to their scale, are most likely to be demolished. It won’t tell you that the Chu family, a Chinatown developer, lies in wait. It also won’t tell you that a substantial number of residents with low-to-to-moderate incomes already reside in the neighborhood, and will likely be the first ones displaced.

In fact, a study commissioned by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation contradicts in clear statistical and pie chart fashion all of the unsupported claims made by the city about the zoning district. The report is aptly titled Upzoning SoHo and NoHo: Why the City’s Rezoning Plan Will Decrease Socio-Economic Diversity and Reduce Net Affordable Housing. Another less publicized report, commissioned by the Municipal Art Society (MAS), A Tale of Two Rezonings/Taking a Closer Look At CEQR, studied two already upzoned neighborhoods and came to the same damning conclusion.

According to MAS, the two neighborhoods, Long Island City and Downtown Brooklyn, are now whiter, wealthier, and more crowded than ever.” The report notes that “the expected boom in commercial development never happened. Instead, these neighborhoods were transformed by an explosion of high-end, high-rise, residential development.” At the same time, the local public schools have been overrun.

Sadly, the city never looks back and says, “Oops, it didn’t happen the way we said it would, so maybe we shouldn’t make the same promises in the next neighborhood?” Those unacknowledged facts have no impact whatsoever on the next set of false promises.

In fact, the city promotes—and the press perpetuates—the idea that this upzoning is meant to democratize and diversify the SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods. The onetime manufacturing buildings converted to artists’ housing and then high-end apartments are included in the larger zoning district. But they’re the convenient visual front for a larger deceptive story that, in the end, will result in a whiter, richer neighborhoods, just like Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City. Similar studies would probably show the same thing in other upzoned neighborhoods, but no one is footing the bill to study them (and certainly the city does not want to assist them in that research).

The Greenwich Village preservation society report outlines numerous flaws in the city’s environmental impact statement, as well as the vast discrepancies between the promised change and current reality: “New developments under the City plan would have a much higher share of highest income earners as compared to the current neighborhood, a much lower share of the lowest income earners, and none of the nearly 20 percent of the neighborhood which currently earns under $32,000.” These circumstances have been true in other upzoned neighborhoods because the scale of the allowable new buildings is so huge, the number of high end apartments so plentiful, and the promised new “affordable” housing is never as affordable as the housing that is lost.

According to the report, 47.3% of the current neighborhood earns $0–$99,999; under the City Plan, 25% of the new residents will earn $32,000–$98,000. At the same time, 25.9% of the current neighborhood earns $200,000 and above; under the City Plan, 75% of the residents will earn $1 million and above.

“The city assumes no development will take place on any site currently containing rent regulated housing and no low or moderate income residents will be displaced,” the SoHo/NoHo report states. “This is simply not based on reality, or borne out by the facts.” (Emphasis mine.) The City also excludes from their projections the possibility of housing with rent-regulated units or houses of worship, private schools, or other institutions from being demolished and redeveloped, even though we see this happen time and time again. Its assumptions have been wrong in virtually every upzoned neighborhood throughout the city, and as a result we’ve lost thousands of rent-regulated and non-regulated affordable housing units. It’s such an outrageous lie—claiming that upzoning will help solve the housing crisis—that it’s difficult to believe the city can keep repeating it with a straight face. The real estate community is delighted, of course, with the increasing loss of rent stabilized apartments.

The politics of upzoning and the pull of real estate money is so strong that even City Council representatives who would be expected to sympathize with the community are swept up in one falsehood after another.

It is all so hypocritical! Take, for example, the constant promotion of affordable or low-cost housing. The city is officially all for it. So is the civic community and the press. Yet, the quickest two ways to achieve big numbers of low-rent housing over the largest geographical area of the city would be to legalize and financially assist in the development of basement apartments or secondary units in the back yards of single-family neighborhoods. More than 100,000 units (some estimate 200,000) could emerge from a zoning and financing plan that legalizes this housing form. But there is nothing in it for developers, who would rather claim the financial incentives that come with new construction, even when it replaces or pushes out existing and more honestly affordable units. To be sure, nothing in this initiative involves developers. Instead, the benefits, financial and otherwise, would accrue to homeowners. In the rush to upzone neighborhoods all over town during the Bloomberg administration, single-family neighborhoods—fearful of what developers would do, or who might move in or of losing on-street parking spaces—were downzoned to prevent gentle, gradual, effective change. No one hears much about these truly Not-in-My-Back-Yard neighborhoods.

Instead, whenever there is a proposal of any kind that intrudes on a historic district or affects an as-yet-undesignated historic district, it is always the preservationists who are accused of resisting needed change. Preservationists are the most popular whipping boy. But SoHo and NoHo, great designated districts, have undergone enormous change in recent years, even with designated status. The neighborhoods are filled with new buildings, taller and more modern than older structures. When I served on the Landmarks Preservation Commission, I voted for those new buildings that appropriately added a contemporary layer to the historically rich area. But those buildings stayed within the context of the existing community, something this new zoning proposal flauntingly does not.

There are probably more than 40 new buildings in these two designated historic districts, but they do not impair the essential historic character. This is the kind of appropriate change that adds a new layer of history without destroying the old, while retaining existing diversity. The new zoning plan will make a mockery of this equitable pattern.

Edison Parking, for example, a big de Blasio contributor, owns the two largest empty lots in the proposed upzoning district. One site, at Great Jones and Lafayette, would allow an FAR of 200 feet, the highest allowable in the state. If the purchase of nearby air rights is added, SoHo could have its very own supertall. The second site, in NoHo at the edge of Chinatown (Baxter and Centre Streets), would allow a 9.7 FAR, which with accumulated air rights would overshadow Chinatown and have a negative impact on that largely affordable neighborhood. The city promises a height limit. But given the false and distorted premises of the SoHo/NoHo/Chinatown rezoning proposal, can we really expect a reasonable solution?

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

Judge lets Eichner’s Crown Heights project near Botanic Garden advance​

There is a catch, however, as developer seeks rezoning​

Two rezonings, held up by the same judge for similar reasons, can now both move forward. But in one case, a developer will need to figure out the logistics of holding an outdoor hearing.
Brooklyn Judge Katherine Levine on Thursday lifted her temporary restraining order blocking the rezoning of a former spice factory at 960 Franklin Avenue, where Ian Bruce Eichner’s Continuum Company wants to build two 30-plus story rental towers.

The move allows the controversial project to advance on the condition that the developer works with Community Board 9 to provide an outdoor venue and virtual access to hearings on the matter.

This week Levine similarly removed an order that was holding up a proposal to rezone 80 blocks in Gowanus, after approving the city’s plan to hold an outdoor hearing in J.J. Byrne Park next month.
Community groups had argued in separate lawsuits against the Franklin Street and Gowanus rezonings that Uniform Land Use Review Procedure hearings must be in-person. Virtual proceedings, they claimed, deprived residents the ability to adequately discuss them.

City Hall is actively working on the Gowanus meetings but has “refused to support the in-person” Franklin Avenue community board meeting, according to attorneys from Kasowitz, Benson & Torres representing the developer. This isn’t surprising: In December, Mayor Bill de Blasio rescinded his support for the project, echoing the concerns of local residents that the tower would cast shadows over the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

The Gowanus rezoning is also being pursued through a city-led application, whereas the other is a proposal from a private developer.
A representative for the developer said the company is confident that the board will “make every effort to hear all voices in this discussion in a timely manner.”
“Brooklyn Community Board 9 is one of the most professional, attentive and future-forward community boards in the entire City of New York,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

A representative for the Crown Heights board could not immediately be reached for comment.
In February, City Planning certified Continuum’s plan for the towers. The developer is seeking to build two 39-story towers with 1,578 rentals, half of which would be affordable. Continuum has also floated an alternative plan for a 17-story building instead with fewer affordable apartments.

As-of-right, the company can build a smaller project with 500-plus condo units, all market-rate.

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

Soho and Noho rezoning moves forward despite lawsuit​

City Planning Commission certified rezoning application​

The proposal to rezone Soho and Noho is moving forward, despite a lawsuit claiming the plan cannot proceed if the city doesn’t host in-person hearings.
The City Planning Commission on Monday certified the application to rezone the neighborhoods, officially kickstarting the public land use review process. The timing of the certification means the rezoning could make it through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure before the end of the de Blasio administration, as long as it doesn’t face further delays.

The proposal would apply to 56 blocks in the neighborhood, eliminating restrictions that permit only light manufacturing use on ground floors. It could also pave the way for more than 3,500 residential units, of which as many as 1,118 could be set aside as affordable. (The city has identified only 26 sites that are likely to be developed in the next 10 years, which would yield an estimated 1,829 units, of which 382 to 573 would be affordable.)

The de Blasio administration has argued that the neighborhoods’ zoning rules are woefully outdated, leading to a flood of special permits for uses largely associated with the area — namely, retail and residential.
But some community groups have argued that the proposal is a giveaway to developers that will result in large-scale luxury buildings and an invasion of big-box retailers.

Last month, the Soho Alliance, Broadway Residents Coalition and individual residents of the neighborhoods filed a lawsuit seeking to block the rezoning. The complaint alleges that the mayor was exploiting the pandemic to rush the proposal through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, while wrongfully denying the community in-personal meetings. A similar lawsuit was filed to stop the Gowanus rezoning, claiming that Ulurp proceedings can’t be held virtually under city rules, despite city and state orders suspending public meeting rules during the pandemic.

Despite the legal challenge, Judge Arthur Engoron declined to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the rezoning from proceeding, saying community groups fighting the proposal failed to show “immediate and irreparable harm.” At the time, however, City Planning decided to hold off on certifying the rezoning application, saying that it was finalizing the proposal.

On Friday, an attorney for the Soho groups asked Engoron to hold an emergency hearing on his clients’ request for a TRO and preliminary injunction to halt the rezoning application. The attorney, Jason Zakai, argues in the letter that the judge’s finding that no “immediate and irreparable harm” existed was based on the city’s decision to pause certification. The circumstances have since changed, Zakai wrote, because City Planning decided to move forward with certification prior to a scheduled June 3 hearing without giving adequate notice and details on the proposal.

“Certification of DCP’s SoHo/NoHo plan is tainted with illegality and an utter lack of transparency, as the city tries to rush forward with its plan before the mayor’s term expires,” said Zakai, who also represented the community groups in the Gowanus case. “We look forward to having our day in court on June 3rd.”
Under a recent change in the City Charter, City Planning is required to post a detailed summary of a project on its website at least 30 days before certifying a Ulurp application, in addition to notifying the borough president and community boards. The application was labeled “noticed” last month on City Planning’s website, which signals that the agency will seek to certify a proposal within 30 days.

City Planning’s method of precertification notification was also criticized in the lawsuit seeking to stop the Gowanus rezoning. In that case, the judge allowed the city to release the rezoning application ahead of certification and only permitted the rezoning to move forward after the city agreed to arrange for a hybrid outdoor and virtual community board hearing.

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
After an initial hybrid public hearing held online and in-person at the Old Stone House in Park Slope, the rezoning proposal is facing local community board committees for the first time this week, with the land use committee of Community Board 2 already voting to disapprove the proposal.

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Council members call out City Planning on Soho rezoning
Rivera, Chin want protection for low-rent units and more of them

The rezoning of Soho and Noho has hit a speed bump.

Council members Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera, who represent parts of the areas pegged for the rezoning, want more affordable housing in the plan.

The lawmakers penned a joint statement calling on the Department of City Planning to “come back to the table” and map out a rezoning that “can guarantee the most affordable housing possible for our communities.”

The rezoning relies on the approval of the two members, who also criticized City Planning for its treatment of certain community groups.

“While there has unfortunately been a fair share of fear-mongering and disrespect during this discussion, the outright disregard of groups like Cooper Square Committee and NoHO Bowery Stakeholders from DCP is incredibly troubling to us,” the council members wrote.

In a statement, a City Planning spokesperson said the agency is grateful for the council members and community groups.

“We wouldn’t want to move forward without giving a voice to all the stakeholders who care about the community,” the spokesperson said.

It is standard practice for local Council members to seek more from the administration before signing off on a city rezoning, even if they have signaled support from the outset.

The Soho/Noho proposal has been criticized by various groups for not creating enough affordable housing, endangering a historic district and potentially leading to an influx of big-box retailers.

The Village Sun reported that a City Planning official clashed with community groups at a Community Board 2 meeting this month after she said an alternative plan floated by one of the groups “is not rooted in reality.” The plan, proposed by Village Preservation, called for an affordable housing mandate for residential conversions or new residential development without increasing permitted density in the district.

Ground-floor retail and residential use is largely barred in Soho and Noho, which is zoned for manufacturing. Under the rezoning proposal, mixed-uses would be permitted, paving the way for higher density commercial and residential development.

The city projects that 1,829 residential units will be created under the rezoning over the next decade, with 382 to 573 set aside as affordable per the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. Another 1,719 units, with 365 to 545 permanently affordable, could be built, but likely not before 2031.

Developers can either set aside 25 percent of a building’s floor area for residents making an average of 60 percent of the area median income, with 10 percent of that space for residents making 40 percent of the AMI; or they can designate 30 percent of the building to residents making an average of 80 percent of the AMI.

They can also apply for a special permit to instead pay into an affordable housing fund, rather than including affordable units onsite, “if the building’s configuration creates practical difficulties in physically siting such affordable units.”

City Planning certified the rezoning application in May, officially starting the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. The de Blasio administration has made it a priority to complete the public review process before the end of the mayor’s term.

The rezoning has already survived a legal challenge. Further delay could punt the plan to the next mayor and City Council.


David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

City tweaks Soho rezoning proposal, but critics remain unimpressed​

Changes in response to calls for more affordable housing would slightly reduce commercial space​

The fate of the proposed Soho and Noho rezoning hinges on whether enough changes can be made to satisfy affordable housing concerns.
Last week, City Planning suggested a few tweaks to the plan, including decreasing the amount of commercial space permitted in certain areas. The changes would slightly reduce potential floor area ratios for commercial space in two subareas, lowering the proposed ratio from 10 to 8 in the southeast end of the Soho rezoning and to 7 in the northeast subarea.

During a hearing last week, Edith Hsu Chen, director of City Planning’s Manhattan office, acknowledged that the proposed adjustments address concerns that the rezoning would net too much commercial development. Still, she emphasized that commercial space is integral to the future of the neighborhoods.
“We believe achieving our housing goals while still supporting and enhancing the mixed-use commercial district of Soho/Noho, are not mutually exclusive goals,” she said. “In fact, we think they are very important to one another.”

But the modifications, so far, have failed to appease critics.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said in an interview that the changes do not go far enough to ensure the creation of significant affordable housing, nor does it disincentivize the demolition of existing rent-stabilized apartments to make way for new construction.

Brewer said she is hopeful that further alterations to the plan will be made before the proposal comes up for a final vote. Local Council members Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera have similarly raised concerns that the rezoning, as it stands, would not result in adequate affordable housing.

Will Thomas, executive director of pro-development group Open New York, echoed that the changes would still lead to an overwhelming amount of new commercial development. He warned that the rezoning could result in a “reverse Long Island City,” referring to the fact that the Queens neighborhood’s rezoning resulted mostly in new apartments, rather than office space as was intended.

The rezoning proposal would pave the way for higher density commercial and residential development, given that Soho and Noho are currently zoned for manufacturing.
Officials estimate that 1,829 residential units could be created under the rezoning over the next decade, with 382 to 573 set aside as affordable in accordance with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. After 10 years, another 1,719, with 365 to 545 permanently affordable, could be built.


David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
As a lame duck Mayor DeBlazio appears to have finally awakened from his stupor and is finishing things off left and right before the door hits him on the way out.

NYC Council Approves de Blasio’s Massive Gowanus Rezoning

“This is the biggest rezoning this administration has done over our eight years,” the mayor said ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the plan, which will upzone an 82-block swath of the Brooklyn neighborhood to add an estimated 8,500 new apartments.
The New York City Council on Tuesday approved a plan to upzone an 82-block swath of Gowanus, delivering a late-term land use victory for Mayor Bill de Blasio and paving the way for a long-debated transformation of the Brooklyn neighborhood.

The Council voted 47 to 1 in favor of the rezoning plan, which the de Blasio Administration estimates will add 8,500 new apartments to the neighborhood by 2035. About 3,000 of those units—including roughly 950 in a development planned for the city-owned Public Place site—would be considered “affordable,” or reserved for people making a percentage of area median income under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program.

“This is the biggest rezoning this administration has done over our eight years,” said de Blasio, who has made rezoning neighborhoods for greater density a core element of his housing approach during his two terms in office. “This is exactly the kind of thing we came here to do,” he said Tuesday in a press conference ahead of the vote.

The rezoning approval, with Councilmember Carlos Menchaca as the lone “no” vote, comes after more than a decade of proposals and planning sessions for remaking Gowanus, which began under de Blasio’s predecessor Michael Bloomberg. The final plan continues to encounter intense resistance from neighborhood groups who cite concerns over the future of toxic land, Gowanus Canal sewage overflow, the changing character of the neighborhood and the ability to make good on affordable housing targets.

The proposal faced little resistance from local leaders, however.

Councilmember Brad Lander, who represents most of the rezoned area, and Councilmember Stephen Levin have for months expressed their support for the plan, though they said their final approval depended on a number of concessions by the city—most notably, a commitment to funding about $200 million in renovations at the Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens Houses. They announced their formal endorsement of the plan earlier this month after the city committed to many of their demands, including plumbing, wall and other interior repairs at every apartment in the two NYCHA campuses, outlined in a 21-page “points of agreement” package.

“The Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning shows that it is possible for New Yorkers to plan together for a more inclusive and sustainable future of our city,” Lander said before the vote Tuesday. “It shows many people will accept growth in their neighborhood if they are part of the planning process.”

In comments before the full Council, Levin hailed the NYCHA commitments. “Every single apartment is going to be refurbished by NYCHA—not by RAD or private development…which is extraordinary and unprecedented and for aging infrastructure, this will give them a longer life.”

The rezoning was also backed by the City Planning Commission, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams—the mayor-elect—and Brooklyn’s Community Board 6, which also made its support contingent on the NYCHA funding. Brooklyn Community Board 2, which represents a portion of the rezoning area, voted against the plan in June.

The land use changes will cover the area bound by Bond Street to the west, 4th Avenue to the east, Baltic Street to the north and Huntington, 3rd, 7th and 15th streets to the south. The plan will allow towers up to 30 stories tall near the Gowanus Canal and around 17 stories -tall along 4th Avenue.

The Gowanus rezoning marks the first time that de Blasio sought and received approval for a neighborhood-level upzoning in a predominantly white community where resident incomes exceed the citywide average. Opponents have contested that characterization of the demographic makeup of the proposed rezoning area, but a review of overlapping census tracts in the City Planning Department’s “Population FactFinder” database seems to support the city’s contention. Another land use proposal under review, and approaching a final Council vote, would upzone a large portion of SoHo and NoHo, among the city’s wealthiest communities.

Unlike other de Blasio era rezonings, plan supporters say, MIH will actually create units affordable to people who earn less than the average income in Gowanus. In past plans, like the rezoning of East New York, MIH units were still unaffordable to many local residents, according to a study released earlier this year by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

The Gowanus plan was also the first to undergo an independent racial impact study, which found that the rezoning would increase income and racial diversity in the neighborhood. The City Council voted in June to make racial impact studies mandatory starting in 2022.

The points of agreement package specifically describes the city’s commitment to 100 percent affordable housing at the Public Place site, a large city-owned property undergoing environmental remediation to remove toxic coal tar.
The planned development, which will be called Gowanus Green, will feature 950 units, with at least 50 percent of apartments reserved for New Yorkers earning 50 percent of AMI or below ($41,800 for a single person and $59,650 for a family of four). Another 40 percent of the apartments will be set aside for people earning between 80 percent and 120 percent of AMI (between $66,880 to $100,320 for an individual and $95,440 to $143,160 for a family of four). The final breakdown has not yet been determined, but 5th Avenue Committee Executive Director Michelle De La Uz, a former City Planning commissioner, said the low-income units will likely account for 60 percent of the apartments. The city also pledged to develop 115 units for seniors, about 73 units as supportive housing and about 67 units as condos at the site.

Opponents of the plan have repeatedly assailed the feasibility of the city’s environmental pledges at Public Place and along the polluted Gowanus Canal. They have also questioned whether the city will actually uphold its affordable housing commitments, pointing to the unfulfilled pledges of previous rezonings.

The city’s plan “would place low-income and homeless families on forever-toxic land that must be monitored for cancer-causing fumes in perpetuity,” the group Voice of Gowanus, which has opposed the rezoning plan, wrote in a letter to councilmembers ahead of a land use committee vote earlier this month. “This is where the only 100% affordable development is planned—on this most highly toxic land—and it makes up less than 3% of the entire 200-acre rezone.”

They joined U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez in September to demand that the city redo a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the rezoning, saying the current DEIS was based on outdated rainfall data from 2008 and fails to account for the worsening impact of climate change and extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida. They also challenged the city’s contention that there will be “net-zero” combined sewage overflow (CSO) into the polluted Gowanus Canal as a result of rezoning-related construction.

Another piece of legislation approved by the Council Tuesday will force the city to report on the progress toward its Gowanus rezoning commitments and neighborhood changes—though that will take awhile. The bill requires the Department of City Planning to study and report on changes in population and housing that have occurred in the 14 years since a Council-approved land use project took effect, going back to 2009.

The Gowanus plan now goes before de Blasio for final approval.


David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

City Council tweaks Soho rezoning, assuring its passage​

Despite some concessions on density, a victory for de Blasio and real estate​

An agreement has been reached to get the Soho and Noho rezoning across the finish line, reducing the density proposed by the de Blasio administration.
Despite the last-minute changes, the plan as a whole will dramatically increase the amount of development allowed in the high-income, relatively low-scale neighborhoods. It is a victory for the administration and advocates for affordable housing, not to mention the real estate industry.

The City Council zoning subcommittee and the Committee on Land Use voted Thursday on the modified plan, which reduces the commercial floor-area ratio in most of the rezoning area to 5 from the original proposal, in which FAR was 10 in three areas. In the Bowery corridor in Noho, the commercial FAR is 7 and the residential FAR is 12, as recommended by City Planning.

The parameters will encourage developers to build homes instead of office and retail space, drawing praise from the pro-housing group Open New York.
“For the first time, we’re seeing what happens when the system doesn’t cave to parochial special interests committed to an unworkable status quo: Wealthy neighborhoods are being required to build their fair share and New York City is finally on a path to abundant, affordable, and equitable housing,” Will Thomas, executive director of the group, said in a statement.

By “the system,” Thomas was referring to the City Council, notably the two local members who controlled the outcome, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The organization had been scrambling all week — after more than a year of tussling with anti-development locals — to beat back efforts to cut residential density from the plan.

In another part of Noho, described as the historic corridor of the area, residential FAR was decreased to 8.5 from the proposed 9.7. A small area nearby, dubbed Noho’s historic core, had its residential FAR cut to 6 from 9.7. The residential FAR in a portion of southeastern Soho was also cut to 5.6 from 6.
The amended application caps the size of food and beverage establishments at 8,500 square feet and bars dormitory and university use. It also creates a special permit process for approving retail space larger than 10,000 square feet on narrow streets and 25,000 square feet on wide ones.

The revisions also remove the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program’s “option 2,” in which 30 percent of apartments in new projects are set aside for residents making 80 percent or less than the area median income. The program’s other choices largely require deeper affordability.
Council member Carlina Rivera, who represents a small part of the rezoning area in Noho, said that the “finished product is not perfect,” but that the amount of permitted commercial density was reduced as much as possible. She accused the Department of City Planning of failing to seriously consider concerns raised by elected officials and community groups.

The proposal updates the neighborhood’s outdated zoning, which primarily allows for manufacturing use despite its having become a prime retail destination.

The rezoning was the first test of the city’s ability to apply the mayor’s signature affordability program, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, in a predominantly white and affluent Manhattan neighborhood. The administration has been criticized from both ends of the political spectrum for focusing on low-income areas.

“It is really time that we make sure that every neighborhood in the city contributes to building affordable housing,” said Council member Margaret Chin, who represents the bulk of the rezoning area, at the subcommittee meeting. “A neighborhood like Soho, Noho, where it is wealthy, resource-rich, they need to also contribute to the opportunity of creating more affordable housing.”

She added, “At the same time, we will be able to help maintain the artistic and cultural character of this wonderful neighborhood.”
A plan for Gowanus approved last month was the administration’s first large-scale rezoning in a wealthy area.
Opponents of the city’s Soho plan called for less density, arguing that new development would displace rent-regulated tenants, attract big-box retail and endanger historic districts, while failing to achieve the city’s affordable housing goals.

One of the groups, NoHo Bowery Stakeholders, pushed this week to reduce the plan’s residential floor-area ratios in Noho, alarming housing advocates who said the change would induce commercial development. Ultimately, the City Council did not reduce residential FAR as much as the group wanted.
Another group that has opposed the rezoning, Village Preservation, was not impressed by the City Council’s changes.

“It’s shameful that the Council did not listen to the housing and tenant advocates, the environmental groups, the Chinatown leaders, the anti-displacement advocates, the local community board, the national preservation organizations, and the literally tens of thousands of New Yorkers who wrote, called, and emailed them to reject this plan,” Andrew Berman, the longtime executive director of the organization, said in a statement.

Under the original rezoning plan, officials estimated that 1,829 residential units would be created over the next decade, with 382 to 573 of them affordable. In the 10 years after that, another 1,719, with 365 to 545 permanently affordable, could be built. Updated counts on the expected development have not yet been provided.

With the deal in place, the rezoning is expected to be approved by the full Council next week.

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
I may not agree with Brad Lander on a lot of things, but I do agree at this point the result of 421a is only that developers will pay speculators more for each buildable square foot.

Loss of tax break will deflate Gowanus, Soho rezonings, industry says
The popular tax abatement 421a is set to expire in three months

When officials signed off on an 82-block rezoning of Gowanus, they also created a path for developers to swiftly obtain approval for foundation work.

This is key for projects looking to qualify for 421a. The property tax break sunsets June 15, and developers must have foundation footings in place by then to receive it. Developers are very aware of this deadline: Just this week, at least four filed applications with City Planning for an intermediary certification that, if approved, will allow environmental remediation and foundation work to move forward

Ordinarily, developers would need to go through a lengthier and more rigorous waterfront certification process before getting foundation permits. Those who qualify for the remediation certification will still need to go through that process to obtain additional building permits.
“We’ve been beating at their doors to move as quickly as possible,” said Paul Selver, co-chair of the land use department at the law firm Kramer Levin, which is working on waterfront certifications in the neighborhood.

Real estate professionals argue that without 421a — or a comparable replacement — the ambitions behind the recent rezonings in high-cost areas of Gowanus and Soho will not be realized. In other words, the thousands of affordable housing units that supporters of the rezonings predicted they would bring to the neighborhoods won’t get built. Developers would instead opt to go commercial or simply wait until a new incentive is put in place, they say.
Loss of tax break will deflate Gowanus, Soho rezonings, industry says

The popular tax abatement 421a is set to expire in three months​

When officials signed off on an 82-block rezoning of Gowanus, they also created a path for developers to swiftly obtain approval for foundation work.
This is key for projects looking to qualify for 421a. The property tax break sunsets June 15, and developers must have foundation footings in place by then to receive it. Developers are very aware of this deadline: Just this week, at least four filed applications with City Planning for an intermediary certification that, if approved, will allow environmental remediation and foundation work to move forward.

Ordinarily, developers would need to go through a lengthier and more rigorous waterfront certification process before getting foundation permits. Those who qualify for the remediation certification will still need to go through that process to obtain additional building permits.
“We’ve been beating at their doors to move as quickly as possible,” said Paul Selver, co-chair of the land use department at the law firm Kramer Levin, which is working on waterfront certifications in the neighborhood.

Real estate professionals argue that without 421a — or a comparable replacement — the ambitions behind the recent rezonings in high-cost areas of Gowanus and Soho will not be realized. In other words, the thousands of affordable housing units that supporters of the rezonings predicted they would bring to the neighborhoods won’t get built. Developers would instead opt to go commercial or simply wait until a new incentive is put in place, they say.

“If it doesn’t come to pass, it seems very clear that rental housing is not viable,” said Mitch Korbey, chair of the law firm Herrick Feinstein’s land use and zoning group. “The idea that the market rate units cross-subsidize the affordable units and the incentive is not needed is completely wrong.”
Tenant advocates have called for the repeal of 421a, and have opposed Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal for a replacement program, 485w, saying it largely mirrors the soon-to-expire tax break.

A report published by the Community Service Society last month determined that the tax break has cost the city $22.2 billion in forgone tax revenue over the last three decades but has failed to produce “a meaningful amount of truly affordable housing.”
On a recent panel hosted by NYU’s Furman Center, newly elected Comptroller Brad Lander — who shepherded the Gowanus rezoning through the city’s land use review process while on the City Council — called the high rents allowed by 421a “indefensible.”

The governor’s reworked proposal, Lander said, will likewise encourage developers to build condos in the outer boroughs, rather than rental housing. He also criticized 421a for driving up land prices.

“I wanted to get Gowanus done when people could still get 421a, but what that meant is that a huge amount of it just got paid to speculators and owners along the way who priced it into the value of the land,” he said. “I would rather require pricing affordability into land costs with something like a 10 percent requirement in hot-market neighborhoods.”

He suggested that the state allow 421a to expire and set a deadline for reforming the city’s property tax system. Lander did not respond to questions about the fate of the Gowanus rezoning.

The city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program was designed to work alongside 421a. Without the latter, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development would need to exhaust its entire budget to subsidize affordable housing in Gowanus, said Basha Gerhards, senior vice president of planning at the Real Estate Board of New York.

“It is very challenging to operate and construct multifamily housing,” she said.
“I believe it is irrational to yank a tax tool absent a replacement paradigm in place.”

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

City demanding more affordability in apartment projects​

Council axes “option 2,” a favorite of developers, from three more rezonings​

Through the process of elimination, the city is demanding deeper affordability from its signature housing policy.
The City Council last week approved three site rezonings in Brooklyn under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, but dropped a rent option that had become a favorite of developers. Council members have done so with increasing frequency in the past year.

The affordability tier being targeted is called “option 2,” under which at least 30 percent of a project’s residential space must be set aside for households with incomes that average 80 percent of the area median income. The mix can include units for those making more than 100 percent of AMI, which many Council members say is not affordable to their constituents.

The Brooklyn votes, cast Feb. 24, suggest that removal of option 2 has become a trend and could evolve into the Council’s default choice on rezonings.
Last fall the Council removed option 2 for residential projects in its rezoning of Soho and Noho. No formal proposal has been made to eliminate option 2 from the inclusionary housing program entirely.
“I can’t say it is entirely surprising,” said Ken Fisher, a real estate attorney with Cozen O’Connor. “The idea of options was written into MIH to account for local preferences, but we’re at a point in time where the focus has been on people on the lower end of the economic spectrum. There is a lot of political pressure to make the income restriction as low as possible.”

He added that Mandatory Inclusionary Housing is an imperfect tool, but said in most cases, projects should still pencil out even if their affordability options are reduced — a decision typically made by the Council member in whose district the rezoning is requested.
Last week, option 2 was dropped for 749 Van Sinderen Avenue in New Lots, where 119 affordable units are planned; Marine Park’s 2892 Nostrand Avenue, a mixed-use commercial and residential building with 51 housing units, where 13 will be affordable; and 2134 Coyle Street, a 148-unit building with 45 affordable apartments in Sheepshead Bay.

The developers of the Coyle Street and Nostrand Avenue projects both intend to pursue option 1, which requires at least 25 percent of housing be dedicated to households making an average of 60 percent of AMI. As part of that affordability mix, 10 percent must specifically be set aside for those making 40 percent of AMI.
An affordable rent is considered to be no more than 30 percent of household income. In units without such a rental structure, working-class New Yorkers commonly pay more than that. Income-restricted units are awarded by lottery.
In the case of the Nostrand Avenue project, Mayor Eric Adams, who was Brooklyn borough president at the time, called on the City Council to get the developer to commit in writing to choose option 1. On the Coyle Street project, in a mostly middle-class area, the developer had initially intended to go with option 2.

On all three rezonings, the City Council also gave the developers the choice to set aside 20 percent of residential space for households making 40 percent of AMI, on average.
The City Council passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing in 2016 at the behest of the de Blasio administration, which created the affordable housing tiers to provide flexibility for developers. It feared that a one-size-fits-all policy would render unsubsidized projects uneconomical in some neighborhoods and result in no housing being built.
In response to criticism, the administration increased housing subsidies to provide deeper affordability in projects in low-income neighborhoods. But it warned that the city could not subsidize its way out of the housing crisis.