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Happy Rezoning Day

For those of you that forgot to mark you calendars, tomorrow is Rezoning Day. That’s right, it is five years since the City Council approved the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Waterfront Rezoning. On May 11, 2005, the City Council and the Mayor’s office finalized a package of promises that paved the way for the enactment of the rezoning.

Since it’s Rezoning Day, you might be wondering how the City is doing on all of the promises it made in 2005. I certainly am – so I did some poking around.

Things have slowly improved on the open space side of the equation in the past year. The first phase of Bushwick Inlet Park is now open as a soccer field (and a rather nice one at that). 0.28 acres down, 28 to go. Unfortunately, no headway has been made on the acquisition of the rest of the future Bushwick Inlet Park, so there is no waterfront access, no picnic area, no dog run, no bosque, no gardens and no great lawn. A waterfront pier opened last year at Northside Piers, the first taste of the publicly-accessible waterfront that one day is to run from North 3rd Street to Newtown Creek. That day is still far off, even for the Northside – the esplanades at 184 Kent, Northside Piers and the Edge are still not publicly accessible, and construction activity on land has rendered the pier a part-time amenity.

Up in Greenpoint, waterfront access is farther out on the horizon – there can be no waterfront esplanade until there is waterfront development. Work is soon to be underway at Transmitter Park, so maybe the public will have a real park to enjoy by the time we get to the 6th anniversary. But that’s the good news for Greenpoint. The bad news is that sludge tank is still where it has been for the past five years – smack dab in the middle of a proposed waterfront park. And 65 Commercial Street is still in the hands of the MTA, which means that it too is still not a park.

Over the past year, there have been some positive developments on the parks and open space front, including the beginning of construction of McCarren Pool, the opening of a skate park at McCarren, and the opening of a playground at East River State Park. Technically, none of these are a direct result of the 2005 rezoning. But they are all welcome improvements to a community that ranked 39th City-wide in terms of per capita open space before the rezoning. Since 2005, Greenpoint and Williamsburg have added a lot more people (with more to come), but we haven’t really added that much more open space. Certainly not enough to increase – or even hold the line on – our open space ratio.

On the affordable housing front, not much has changed since last year’s report. Two waterfront developments are nearing completion, and both of those are generating affordable housing units through the inclusionary housing program. But none of the other waterfront sites are remotely near breaking ground, so what we see now is what we’re going to get out of that program for a while.

Upland, no developers that I know of have opted in to the inclusionary program. One development was supposed to create a dozen or so off-site units of affordable housing, but the market rate portion of that project is stalled (or nearly so), and the affordable portion of the project is still an empty lot. Other than that, the upland inclusionary program has not lived up to the City’s expectations.

City-owned sites aren’t faring much better. Some affordable units were created at Cook Street using a City-owned parking lot. The rest of the City-owned sites are meandering their way through the approval process. In the 2005 Points of Agreement between the Council and Mayor’s Office, 20 City-owned sites were identified for the development of 1,345 units of affordable housing. To date, none of those units of housing has been constructed. The closest to completion of the 14 units of senior housing being developed by North Brooklyn Development Corporation at the former Herbert Street Police Station. Only 1,331 units to go.

What’s the hold up? It took the City close to three years to issue RFPs for a series of small sites and one pretty big site (Greenpoint Hospital with 265 units). It then took the City two years to award the Greenpoint Hospital RFP – the result being that not a spade of dirt has been turned on any of these sites. But at least they’ve been awarded – that MTA site at 65 Commercial is also supposed to generate air rights that will create 431 units of affordable housing. Once the city acquires those air rights. And once someone buys them from the City and builds affordable housing next door. In other words, not any time soon.

Manufacturing jobs continue to suffer as a result of the rezoning, despite numerous promises and programs that were supposed to make manufacturing viable in the small pockets that were still designated for such uses. The problem is that bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and hotels continue to be more viable uses than manufacturing in the Bushwick Inlet area – no surprise, given that these few blocks were completely surrounded by new residential use in 2005. The continued success of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center show that manufacturing is still viable in Brooklyn, but the sector is easily suffocated by short-sighted policy decisions.

A yar ago, things were looking brightest on the good growth front. Writing about sensible growth last year, I said:

Finally, there seems to be a recognition that contextual growth matters, and that simply throwing more market-rate housing at the affordable housing problem ultimately leads to more displacement, a more overburdened infrastructure and a less livable neighborhood.</

This was written in response to a follow-up action by the City and two contextual rezonings, all of which restricted height and created a manageable density level upland from the waterfront. These actions – covering over 200 blocks – were all a direct result of promises made in 2005 and they were important steps forward for Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Another important step forward was the community’s decision not to support Quadriad’s 20-story on Berry and North 3rd Street.

But now we have Domino to contend with – a rezoning that makes 2005’s rezoning look downright quaint. That isn’t necessarily the City’s fault. The Council, in 2005, required the City to “work expeditiously to commence public review” of the Domino rezoning. That public review has commenced, largely on Domino’s terms. Hopefully the City will scale it back and retain the affordable housing.

So there you have it – the state of the rezoning, 2010. Things are looking up on open space, even if we have a long, long way to go. The outlook is less rosy on affordable housing, downright bleak on industrial retention and murkier on sustainable development. Not exactly flying colors.