Backlash in Bushwick over city’s rezoning plan

April 24, 2019 Paul Stremple
The city's plan allows for potential 13-story developments along Myrtle Avenue. Eagle file photo by Paul Stremple.
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In front of an audience packed with community board members, opposition activists and local stakeholders, the city revealed on Tuesday night its draft plan for the long-awaited rezoning of Bushwick.

The draft outlines a set of investments into the community, from parks to health services and affordable housing, along with zoning changes that would increase density in the rapidly changing neighborhood.

Aspects of the plan, especially regarding affordable housing and increased density, were met with contention from some attendees. Opponents of the plan repeatedly interrupted the meeting with comments like “affordable to who?” After a presentation that lasted roughly 45 minutes, city representatives fielded only a couple questions before the meeting was adjourned and attendees were told to leave as the lights flicked on and off.

Though the city’s plan doesn’t yet provide concrete numbers on total additional housing units coming to Bushwick, the level of increased density and lack of truly affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers beyond mandatory developer minimums breaks with the community’s hopes for what the rezoning could have looked like.

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For the past four years, sparked in part by an uptick in out-of-context development on neighborhood side streets, residents teamed up with local politicians and nonprofit organizations to develop the Bushwick Community Plan, a vision for the future of the neighborhood. This community plan, commissioned by Community Board 4, was the impetus for the city rezoning.

Related: Bushwick Community Plan: Everything you need to know

The confines of the rezoning. Map via DCP
The confines of the rezoning. Map via DCP

According to DCP representatives, the new zoning laws in Bushwick would preserve height requirements on 70% of residential side streets, ensuring buildings line up with current construction to preserve the character of the neighborhood.

On the other hand, the DCP plans to allow for 16-story residential and commercial mixed-use buildings along Broadway, while Myrtle Avenue would see potential 13-story developments. Other neighborhood corridors, like Central and Wilson, would see “modest” density increases, according to the DCP presentation.

These new high-density buildings, clustered around transit hubs, would include requirements for a certain percentage of affordable units. But critics of the plan say these requirements don’t create enough units, and that any housing that will be created remains too expensive for the Bushwick community.

Local City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who helped set the Bushwick Community Plan in motion, said he saw the presentation as “a starting point.”

“If not for the work we started four years ago,” said Reynoso, “this would’ve looked a lot worse.”

Along with the first updates to the blanket zoning that has covered most of Bushwick since 1961, the Bushwick Community Plan also calls for major investments in the neighborhood across a number of city departments. These upgrades are a key part of the plan, seen as the trade-off for what residents are giving up in high-density development.

Related: Fast facts about ULURP

Graph via DCP
Graph via DCP

The presentation from DCP listed a number of efforts to invest in Bushwick that were either already planned or would be taken into consideration.

DCP said they would work to develop 100% affordable housing on city-owned land, while working with local nonprofits and landlords to protect tenants from harassment. Some existing NYCHA housing, like Hope Gardens, will be renovated, while additional senior housing will be created at the Bushwick II development.

The city Parks Department will invest more than $10 million in upgrades, with some projects already underway. That includes reconstruction of the Hope Ballfield, a new accessible bathroom at Green Central Knoll, synthetic turf fields at Maria Hernandez Park and reconstruction on the skate park and basketball courts at Rudd Playground State Park.

The Department of Small Business Services has already pushed its mobile outreach unit into the streets of Bushwick as part of an ongoing effort to connect small business owners in the neighborhood to resources. Growing local business is a major goal of the rezoning-adjacent initiatives, and the NYC Economic Development Corporation will work to connect business owners with tax incentives as well as linking residents to nearby opportunities at city incubator and workshop spaces to grow their businesses.

A series of new or expanded programs seek to address community health, focusing on increased access to opioid treatment and the deployment of health workers to overdose “hotspots” throughout the neighborhood. Additionally, the draft plan promises further investment in healthy eating and urban agriculture initiatives — an important step in a neighborhood where bodegas outnumber supermarkets about 30 to 1.

The Bushwick Community Plan outlined three potential historic districts, along with six individual buildings recommended for landmark status. The city Landmarks Preservation Commission has agreed to study all three districts, beginning this month, in order to make recommendations towards future preservation.

Row-houses on Irving Avenue would be included in the Northeast Bushwick historical district suggested by the Bushwick Community Plan. Eagle file photo by Paul Stremple
Row-houses on Irving Avenue would be included in the Northeast Bushwick
historical district suggested by the Bushwick Community Plan. Eagle file photo by Paul Stremple

The draft plan combined a number of transportation initiatives — some ongoing, some new — to provide a comprehensive look at upgrades to safety and accessibility in the neighborhood’s transportation. Increased ADA accessibility along the L and J/M/Z lines is a top priority, as are safety improvements along Myrtle Avenue, with new crosswalks and curb extensions designed to protect pedestrians. The Myrtle-Wyckoff Plaza, which is currently made from temporary materials, will be built out with permanent components, and the city will study ways to better light and utilize space under elevated subway tracks.

Still, none of the potential improvements in the community matter much to those opposed to the rezoning, who believe any changes, whether put forth by the city or the community, will exacerbate displacement. In a statement earlier this year regarding the rezoning, anti-gentrification groups Mi Casa No Es Su Casa and G-REBLS called the Bushwick Community Plan “illegitimate.”

But many of those involved with the community plan over the years see the rezoning as the only way to mitigate the drastic changes to the neighborhood over the last decade.

Reynoso has claimed full responsibility for achieving a rezoning that works for community members, and said that if CB4 ultimately wasn’t on board, and the city wasn’t willing to compromise with them, he wouldn’t support the plan.

He said the real negotiations would come during the ULURP process, when the broad strokes presented Tuesday night by the DCP are finalized.

In May, the DCP will present the draft plan to CB4 in Bushwick, while a scoping hearing should take place in June. Though city representatives touted ongoing opportunities for community input, the opposition seemed unconvinced their voices would be heard. The DCP hopes to have the plan adopted by winter 2020.

Paul Stremple is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow his work on both Instagram and Twitter.

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