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18 January 2014

How NYC's Decade of Rezoning Changed the City of Industry [✜]

Eli Rosenberg, with a long, and very smart look at exactly why the Bushwick Inlet IBZ (and others) are broken:

But the massive redevelopment of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfronts and the sudden desirability of the area was having a trickle down effect on even the IBZ, a small wedge in the middle of the vast rezoning that had transformed the two formerly industrial neighborhoods. A night market and concert venue had replaced the bakery across the street, with the leasing agents pitching the "central location and existing, vibrant night life scene." A restaurant with a $125 dollar tasting menu had opened inside the IBZ a few blocks away. And the Wythe Hotel opened in Spring 2012 on the edge of the zone, quickly becoming a "summertime Eden" for a fresh crowd of jetsetters—a beneficiary of the nearly 200 blocks of rezoning the city pushed through in 2005, turning Williamsburg from an industrial neighborhood into a development free-for-all, as gleaming condo towers rose along a waterfront once blanketed by factories.

(A small point - people like to make a big deal about the Bloomberg administration's 124 rezoning ("nearly 40% of the city's acreage"), but they forget that many of those rezonings were contextual in nature, and did significantly change allowed uses or increase in any meaningful way the allowable density of development.)

Is This Mindboggling Exoskeletal Hotel Coming To Wythe Ave.? [✜]

Yet more proof that the Bushwick Inlet IBZ is broken beyond repair.

6 December 2013

Starbucks in Williamsburg - Finally?(!) [✜]

After a good 15 years of rumors and fear mongering, is Starbucks finally coming to Williamsburg? If Eater is right, yes.

We'll see, but for now, outlook good.

29 September 2013

Karl Fischer Has Scored a Major Coup in Williamsburg [✜]

Matt Chaban discovers 101 Bedford, a rather nice design by Karl Fischer, particularly at street level. A lot of this has to do with materials and scale - neither of which is particularly crazy in this instance. Unlike the last development boom, which gave us Karl Fischer Row on Bayard Street and much worse, this boom is less about glass and funky forms and more about solid, in many cases tasteful designs. 80 Metropolitan may have started the trend, but it has been picked up at 101 Bedford, 50 North 5th and others.

Grand Street: The Williamsburg Divide

Grand Street separates two neighborhoods in Williamsburg, and the Times is on it. The result could be the single worst article ever written about Williamsburg in the paper of record.

Already there is one correction: “An earlier version of this article misspelled in one instance the name of an avenue in Brooklyn. It is Wythe Avenue, not Wyeth”. Presumably another correction will be forthcoming when the Grey Lady discovers that Bedford Street is in Greenwich Village, not Brooklyn. Apparently one does not need to travel to Brooklyn to write about it.

Other than seeing that the Northside is different from the Southside, the whole article hits a discordant note – it is hard to find a paragraph not to object to.

Let’s start with North Williamsburg. Unless you want to appear a rube (or you are a real estate broker), there is no such thing. The streets north of Grand Street are the Northside (and it is one word, not two). There is a South Williamsburg, but it’s not where the Times thinks it is. To locals, South Williamsburg refers to the area south of Division Avenue (in other words south of the numbered south streets). The streets in South Williamsburg are named after signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the area today is largely Hasidic. In between the Northside and South Williamsburg is the Southside (also one word) – the south numbered streets.

The moniker South Williamsburg has been creeping north for a few years now, and I suspect it starts with a real estate effort to rebrand the area away from its Hispanic identity. When South Williamsburg started moving north of Broadway, I asked some Puerto Rican and Dominican friends who grew up in the neighborhood to define the Southside (Los Sures in Spanish). Their boundaries coincided generally with what I had always thought – from Grand Street south to either Broadway or Division, and from Kent to at least Union was the Southside.

To [Northsiders], the south can feel, well, a little too real: a backwater of vinyl siding, dusty bodegas, Gen-Y drifters and unrenovated dumps unfit for civilized company.

I can’t speak to the drifters and dumps, but I do know that the Northside has far more vinyl siding than the Southside (or South Williamsburg). As an architectural historian, to me the Southside is one of the more interesting neighborhoods in Brooklyn, with many readable layers of architecture and culture. The bulk of its low-scale housing stock is pre-Civil War brick houses and flats, reflecting the neighborhood’s history as the original civic and commercial center of Williamsburg (Grand Street was the main commercial artery, which explains why it still has so many great retail buildings). As that center shifted south, so too did development. That explains the large number of late-19th century brownstones and mansions in South Williamsburg, and the great buildings of Williamsburg’s second commercial corridor – Broadway. Both neighborhoods have a lot of architectural gems in the mix (check the AIA Guide, which doesn’t spend a lot of time on the Northside). Meanwhile, the Northside was historically the more working-class neighborhood, and as a result has many more wood-framed flats and tenements, many of which got the vinyl siding treatment in the latter half of the 20th century. The same is true of parts of Greenpoint and East Williamsburg (which, by the way, has been called East Williamsburg for 150 years – no rechristening there).

From architecture and history to restaurants and retail, the Southside is far more interesting than the Northside. I hope it stays that way.


20 September 2013

Residents Protest CB4's 'Private and Illegal' Bushwick Rezoning Approval [✜]

CB4 continues to try to dig out of its decision to hold a public hearing that the public wasn't allowed into.

Meanwhile, some CB4 members think that they can build their way to less gentrification:

board member Martha Brown warned that if they voted against the project completely, the developer might still build without providing them the affordable housing they requested… 'If we vote against this and they don't work with us, they'll really come make a Williamsburg'. said Brown

11 September 2013

Heroic Williamsburg Condo Owners Reminisce on "Wild West" Days of 2011 [✜]

Via Gawker, an excerpt from a message board for parents at the Edge:

Believe it it not, two to three years ago when many of us moved into our apartments, we were pioneers and this section of Williamsburg was still the Wild, Wild West. We were surrounded by warehouses, vacant lots, empty retail stores and half-finished/abandoned condo projects.

Believe it or not, some of us can remember when the Edge was a garbage dump (literally), the waterfront was closed off to the community, and people in Williamsburg fought to make the waterfront open to all.

Good times.



My one political plug – I have three local candidates that I have been supporting all year with my time and my money: Dan Squadron, Antonio Reynoso and Steve Levin. All three have worked very hard for our community for years, and all three have earned our votes.

Dan Squadron is running for Public Advocate. He had been out State Senator for four years, and has been a fierce advocate for parks and open space. Daniel led the fight to stop the Bloomberg administration’s policy of charging rent to homeless families living in shelters, has sponsored legislation for transgender civil rights, and has even managed to wring improvements to service on the G and L trains out of the MTA.

Antonio Reynoso is running to succeed Diana Reyna in the 34th Council district (Williamsburg, Southside, East Williamsburg and Bushwick). I’ve worked alongside Antonio and Diana for years, and I know that he will be a strong and effective leader for his district. This is a hugely important and very tight race – Antonio is running against Vito Lopez, who was forced to resign from the state Assembly after being caught harassing and molesting female staffers in his office. Personally, I think you should vote for Antonio because he is the better person for the 34th, but whether it is for Antonio or against Vito, vote for Antonio.

In my district – the 33rd – I am voting for Steve Levin, and you should too. Steve has been an extremely effective and engaged council person. Steve represents a diverse district, but as a resident of Greenpoint, he knows the issue that are important to this end of his district better than any incumbent that I remember. I did not support Steve four years ago, but after working with him closely for the past four years, he has earned my respect and my support.


Article 78

Like a lot of people in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Stephen Pierson wants to turn back time and undo the waterfront rezoning for Greenpoint (and presumably Williamsburg). Unlike a lot of people, Pierson is running for City Council, so his ideas are getting a lot of attention.

As someone who has spent a lot of time on land use issues in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and who put a lot of time and effort into fighting for the community’s position on the 2005 zoning and the many follow up actions and subsequent rezonings, I support this idea in concept. In reality, though, Pierson is making promises he can’t keep, and I think he knows it.

A coalition organized by Levin’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, Stephen Pierson, is pursuing an article 78 lawsuit to block the [Greenpoint Landing] development on the grounds that it is based on a grossly outdated Environmental Impact Statement.

First, let’s be clear about one basic fact – Article 78 is not going to reverse the 2005 rezoning or the Greenpoint Landing Development. The 120-day statute of limitations on filing an Article 78 action ran out almost 8 years ago (7 years and 361 days, but who’s counting?).

So if an Article 78 petition can’t stop the towers on the Greenpoint waterfront, what will it stop? Two things: affordable housing and parks.

There are two current applications going through ULURP – one for Greenpoint Landing and one for 77 Commercial Street. If those applications are approved, one could petition to reverse those approvals under Article 78. But those approvals (which haven’t happened yet) are not the 2005 zoning, so the 40-story towers along most of the Greenpoint waterfront would not be touched. What would be touched is the affordable housing that the city committed to build in the 2005 Points of Agreement (over 600 units between Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial) and funding for parks and open space ($8 million), also promised by the city in 2005 (although the city promised $14 million back then). (This is not to say that either of these actions should be approved or are in any way a great deal for the community. In fact, a big part of these current actions are about the city trying to follow through on unfulfilled promises from 8 or 9 years ago, and a big problem with the current actions is the extent to which it gets the city off the hook for a lot more – but more on that later.)

Article78 tweets

Pierson has already admitted that Article 78 is not going to reduce the as-of-right development on the waterfront from 40 stories to 15 (if it won’t undo 2005, it won’t undo 40 stories), but in articles and on his own campaign website he continues to say that Article 78 challenges are a viable tool in fighting the 40-story towers. To be clear – because Pierson seems unable to do so – IF an Article 78 challenge against the current ULURP applications for Greenpoint Landing/77 Commercial Street was successful, the court would throw out those approvals but the prior (2005) zoning would remain in place. In the case of the current Greenpoint Landing application, 40 stories and 4,000+ units of market-rate housing is the existing zoning. In the case of 77 Commercial, 15 stories and 275 units of market-rate housing is the current zoning. (Article 78 petitions are also very expensive – easily $100,000 or more – and, if SEQRA/ULURP procedures are followed (something that cadres of lawyers and environmental consultants are retained to make sure happens), Article 78 petitions are difficult to win.1)

The only way to reduce the height and density of the 2005 rezoning is do a new rezoning (something that Pierson says he will do). Personally, I think this would be extremely hard to do – not turning lead-into-gold impossible, but pretty damn close. You would be fighting against billions of dollars of vested development rights and the vested interests of a lot of labor and affordable housing advocates. Look at the 2010 Domino rezoning, which is actually bigger and denser than the 2005 rezoning, and provides far less open space and arguably less affordable housing – neighbors, community groups and the Community Board fought tooth and nail against this super-sized zoning, and lost.

‘If de Blasio becomes mayor, he might be more friendly to this idea. He might be able to scale back certain parts. In February of 2008, we scaled back, we down-zoned 13 blocks around Grand Street in Williamsburg. So, it’s possible.’

Pierson brings up the Grand Street rezoning a lot, but I don’t think he knows what that rezoning was all about. First off, Pierson had nothing to do with the Grand Street rezoning – his choice of pronouns is frankly insulting to the neighbors, city planners and community leaders (Diana Reyna was the true hero on this particular rezoning) who worked together to curtail the construction of “finger buildings” in Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

But to the substance of his claim, the Grand Street rezoning was actually a fairly small contextual rezoning, one of a series of actions undertaken after the 2005 rezoning in response to the spate of “finger buildings” being erected throughout Williamsburg. In response to these low-density height-factor-zoning towers, the Department of City Planning proposed contextual rezonings for about 200 blocks in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, changing the predominantly R6 zoning to R6A or R6B. The first action was actually a follow-up corrective action (FUCA) to the 2005 rezoning itself that put height limits on buildings along Metropolitan and Meeker Avenues (most of the rest of the 180 blocks rezoned in 2005 were given height limits). The Grand Street rezoning was the second action – about a dozen or so blocks got height limits as part of that action. The third, and by far the largest action was the 2009 Greenpoint/Williamsburg Contextual Rezoning that established height limits on 175 upland blocks from Commercial Street in the north to Maujer Street in the south. As a result of the 2005 zoning and the follow-up actions, about 400 blocks in north Brooklyn are contextually zoned with height limits. Yes, some of the height limits are too tall for some, but they are there.

Grand Street and all of the other follow up actions are completely irrelevant to rezoning the waterfront rezoning for one simple reason – density. None of these rezonings significantly changed the density of development in Greenpoint or Williamsburg. The height limitations were intended to curtail finger buildings and the abuse of the community facility bonus, not to reduce the base density of development. Rezoning the rezoning, on the other hand, would reduce the density of development by a factor of up to 50%. Not that that is a bad thing, but as a precedent for doing so, the scale and scope of the two actions have nothing to do with another.

1. Someone just pointed out to me that there was an Article 78 petition against the Greenpoint/Williamsburg Waterfront Rezoning. It was brought by TransGas Energy, a company that was trying to construct a large natural gas power plant at Bushwick Inlet. Despite their deep pockets and timely petition, they lost.


4 September 2013

Fight the 40-story Towers? [✜]

According to their Facebook invitation, '40 story towers threaten the future of Greenpoint. The community has been shut out of the process. This is your chance to be heard.'

Actually, your chance to be heard was about nine years ago, when the zoning for the 40-story towers (and ton of new residential development in general) started the public review process. A lot of people fought very hard to make the community's voice heard - we could have used your help back then.