De Blasio talks L train, BQE & Uber, and defends 80 Flatbush development at Brooklyn roundtable
Just chill: BQE Rehab Not a ‘Nightmare’
Overcrowded schools, skyscrapers in Boerum Hill, the cap on Uber and Lyft, the L-train shutdown, ferry service to Canarsie, the BQX, affordable housing and the ULURP process were some of the topics Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed with local Brooklyn reporters at a media roundtable on Thursday as part of his City Hall in Your Borough visit to Brooklyn.
The mayor and top officials have been packing in ribbon cuttings, touring construction projects and attending events including a city resource fair on Wednesday and a community town hall on Thursday. The weeklong borough visits are going to become a tradition, the mayor told reporters.
“Let’s face it, anyone in government needs all the feedback they can get from everyday people,” he said. “There’s nothing like getting out to the community.”
80 Flatbush, and Using Developers to Build Schools
De Blasio defended the proposed 80 Flatbush mega-development, which would bring 900 apartments (with 200 affordable) and two schools to Flatbush Avenue, not far from Barclays Center.
The plan calls for two skyscrapers — one around 1,000 feet tall — and has attracted opposition from preservationists who say it will change the character of the Boerum Hill and Fort Greene neighborhoods. Developer Alloy is asking the city to triple the density of the zoning that is allowed on the site.
Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents the district where the towers will be built, told the Brooklyn Eagle on August 14 that he will be holding meetings with the developer and community members to discuss key issues, including lowering the height of the towers and including setbacks on the State Street side.
De Blasio, however, framed developments like 80 Flatbush as a way for the city to get more school space built.
“The idea of using the development process to get us school space is increasingly popular,” he told reporters.
“Obviously, we get affordable housing, and someone else builds it and pays for it. So when you think about the fact that there’s only so much space, there’s almost no place in the city where when we’re building something sizable there isn’t going to be some concern,” he said. “But if we can combine a site that has a lot of height density around it with the ability to get a major school facility built and affordable housing, that’s a pretty rare combination.”
That doesn’t mean the plan still can’t be adjusted, he added. The mayor said he heard concerns about the project on Wednesday at a resource fair. The proposal is still “very live,” he said. “That’s what the ULURP process is all about. Those conversations are ongoing.”
Brooklyn is leading New York City’s growth, de Blasio said. And more people are choosing public schools than in the past.
“Brownstone Brooklyn and everywhere surrounding it … there’s more and more people with young families, [and] we need more and more school space.”
Yellow Cabs vs Uber
De Blasio said he was against the idea of lifting the cap on yellow cabs, and applauded the one year moratorium on new Uber and Lyft-type vehicles.
Yellow cabs over the years have provided a crucial piece of the city’s transportation system, even to the outer boroughs, the mayor said.
“But now what we have is a purposeful oversaturation of the market” by companies like Uber, he said. “Studies have shown that about 40 percent of the for-hire vehicles drive around empty at any one time. It makes no sense.” There are pollution ramifications and wage ramifications for the drivers, he said.
The mayor said he suspects the city “will come up with a number that is appropriate for the for-hire vehicle sector,” just like the city did with cabs.
The Upcoming L Train Shutdown
The city will be providing extra buses, bikes and ferries during the upcoming L-train shutdown, de Blasio said.
“Many, many more buses. We’re talking about a lot more biking, talking about ferries. And you’re talking about 15 months. It’s important to add that into the equation.
“If businesses need extra help, the city is looking at a variety of ways to support them. But it’s not a limitless period of time. A lot of businesses can persevere through. The most important thing is to get this done and get it done quickly,” he said.
As to the frustrations the MTA’s proposed $40 billion, 10-year Fast Forward overhaul will cause riders if it is funded, the mayor punted to the MTA, saying they have “substantial resources” but they need to apply them better. The plan would halt weekend and night service on the L train and other lines in Brooklyn for two and a half years per line.
De Blasio also suggested a “millionaire’s tax” as a long term solution to the MTA’s budget problems.
This will be the year when the city makes a decision on a ferry at Canarsie, the mayor said, after a study is completed looking at usage levels and the budget.
“We need to be certain there’s a high level of use … and it’s sustainable, in the context of the overall budget,” he said. “This year there will be a decision.”
The mayor’s pet transportation project, the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, is “moving forward,” he said, adding that it needs a federal subsidy to happen — and there’s no sign of that yet.
“It’s a no-brainer,” he said. “The Brooklyn-Queens waterfront is so much of our future. Figuring out how to do it is what we’ve been focusing on.”
There will be an announcement “soon” on the project, he added.
Don’t Call BQE Rehab a ‘Nightmare’
De Blasio said the city, over decades, has a good record when it comes to repairs of highways and bridges, and there has been a “lot of focus” on the upcoming $1.9 billion rehabilitation of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s triple cantilever which undergirds the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
“I would never minimize what these things mean, but New Yorkers are resilient, they know what they signed up for in terms of a big, crowded city, and they are very good at figuring out alternatives. When it comes time to fix the BQE, it will cause disruption. It’s impossible not to cause disruption. We don’t have an alternative.”
While the city can do a lot to compensate for the 15-month L train shutdown, using extra buses, ferries and bikes, the BQE rehab “is taking a crucial highway out of the equation that also is a truck route. That in some ways is a more complex reality. I don’t like ‘nightmare,’ I don’t like ‘summer of hell,’ I don’t like all that stuff. It creates this atmosphere of alarm, and people deal with it. I think we should all chill a little bit — like yes, there’s going to be disruption every time you do something big. The good news is you do it once and it lasts a long time.”
Tall Towers near Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Regarding controversial efforts to rezone a four-block site bordering the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to allow a 40-story development with 700 -800 units of affordable housing (where currently buildings are limited to 6 or 7 stories), the mayor said he values the garden “deeply.”
“We do want to make sure it’s protected in the long haul. But what constitutes protecting it?”
The 700 – 800 units of affordable housing “is a big, big deal,” de Blasio said. “If 2,400 people can live in the city … for decades of guaranteed affordability … I think on the great human scale, that’s a very big deal.”
Does ULURP Work?
De Blasio says he thinks the ULURP public review process (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) is working.
“Community boards bring a particular perspective. Borough presidents bring a particular perspective that … often leads to changes. The ultimate arbiters are City Planning Commission, City Council and the mayor. And there’s a lot of interplay there. There’s a lot of checks and balances,” he said.
He added, “It tends more and more to an emphasis on affordable housing, which I think is as it should be … and making sure community concerns get addressed, like park space and schools.”
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