City’s promise to invest in Bushwick rings hollow, community says

Residents and local elected officials claim the city's plan for community improvements is "a snapshot of currently funded projects."

May 22, 2019 Paul Stremple
Antonio Reynoso announced in an email to supporters that he is running for Brooklyn Borough President in 2021. Eagle file photo by Andy Katz
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Bushwick residents are souring on the city’s plan to rezone the neighborhood, with some local leaders claiming officials are trying to skirt commitments to make new investments in the community.

Residents initiated the process to reshape the neighborhood to get ahead of a flood of development through drafting the Bushwick Community Plan. Their plan conceded major transit corridors to high-density residential zoning in return for a slew of new investments across Bushwick in parks, health, small business development and infrastructure.

Related: Everything you need to know about the Bushwick Community Plan

But when the Department of City Planning presented its response, the Bushwick Neighborhood Plan, to Community Board 4 last week, board members and residents long involved in the process were skeptical. The projects featured in the agency’s presentation looked familiar — but not from the community’s proposal.

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Instead of brand new parks and programs as requested, residents were looking at a list of projects that had been in development — some for years — suddenly repackaged as investments formulated in the context of the neighborhood’s possible rezoning.

“I think they’re being coy and disingenuous about those projects,” Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who represents Bushwick, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Dissatisfaction from those who worked on the community plan could upend the project.

“My opinion and my thinking is that 95 percent of [the city’s proposal] is already done,” said board chair Robert Camacho. “We want to let [DCP] know that we mean business. Nothing is going to go through unless this board is happy with the community — that’s who we represent, the community at large.”

Some of the investments DCP highlighted in its presentation are ongoing or citywide projects, initiated before the delivery of the Bushwick Community Plan recommendations last September. Even state-level projects have been co-opted by the city agency as evidence of investment into improving the Bushwick community, but residents want more than the usual rounds of parks and housing improvements their community needs as a natural part of the city’s growth.

City representatives at the meeting claimed that the broad range of projects in their proposal was designed to give a holistic view of what’s happening in the neighborhood. Instead, it had the opposite effect, sowing distrust among community members who feel they’re being sold a bill of goods.

One project listed in the update was the reconstruction of the playground at PS 377 on Woodbine Street, which would be accessible to the public and provide open space for residents outside walking distance to another park.  But at the meeting, Julie Dent, former chair of CB4, raised objection to its inclusion in the Bushwick Neighborhood Plan. It’s a New York State project, she said, part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Vital Brooklyn initiative.

“I don’t want things from the state getting mixed up in this,” Dent told the Eagle. “There should be brand-new projects.”

Dent worked on a Vital Brooklyn committee through the office of State Assemblymember Eric Dilan and said the money was set aside and allocated separately. She acknowledged that the Bushwick Community Plan has been underway for nearly five years, but said she’s disappointed that the city has yet to outline any future projects or investments.

Maria Hernandez park in Bushwick. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
Maria Hernandez park in Bushwick. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

A DCP representative said that the agency has “incorporated many of the strategies that have been developed over the last several years,” stating that as the Bushwick Community Plan generated community feedback over its multi-year development, the city has taken those suggestions and begun implementing them.

A brand new park at Bushwick Avenue and Beaver Street, Beaver Noll Park, was a featured project in the update. But the planning for Beaver Noll Park began seven years ago, in 2012, well before the first meetings or workshops regarding a rezoning of Bushwick. The $2.7 million project is currently listed at 62 percent of the way through its final phase, with construction slated for completion this June.

A second featured project, the construction of bathrooms at the Green Central Knoll Park at Evergreen Avenue and Knoll Street, was started more than five years ago, with the planning phase kicking off in 2014. The project is now in its final phase, and is currently listed by NYC Parks as 79 percent complete. It’s slated to be finished this month.

The original projected completion date, June 2018, was months before the Bushwick Community Plan’s Steering Committee presented their recommendations to the Department of City Planning in September 2018.

Three more parks projects are in various stages of their multi-year project timelines, but are listed as part of the rezoning plan update. A NYC Parks Department spokesperson said that projects are funded based on community input, including that which was gathered through the Bushwick Community Plan process.

“The Bushwick Neighborhood Plan represents an ongoing inter-agency effort to respond to needs we’ve heard from the community, work cooperatively with the community to prioritize them and shape strategies to address them in the near term and long term,” City Planning spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff wrote in an email. “We expect to continue the in-depth conversation before, during and after public review.”

Issues raised during the feedback process would be addressed through existing policies wherever possible, according to a City Planning representative.

Some citywide projects, like the Housing Preservation and Development Office’s Certification of No Harassment pilot program, take place in Bushwick but aren’t directly tied to the potential rezoning.

The same applies to more projects touted in the update, like upgrades to NYCHA housing at Hope Gardens, DOT improvements to pedestrian safety along Myrtle Avenue and the expansion of CitiBike into Bushwick.

“I’m assuming that the city is presenting the current investments that are going into Bushwick in order to showcase that this isn’t a neglected community and is a community that they’re paying attention to — it’s a snapshot of currently funded projects,” said Reynoso.

The city's plan allows for potential 13-story developments along Myrtle Avenue. Eagle file photo by Paul Stremple.
The city’s plan allows for potential 13-story developments along Myrtle Avenue. Eagle file photo by Paul Stremple.

Reynoso says he understands why the city included the broadest selection of projects possible in presenting their report, but many residents are unswayed. The goal was a series of project investments above and beyond what the community feels they’ve been owed as part of the city’s natural upkeep and expansion of services in a growing neighborhood.

Councilmember Reynoso was quick to point out that for many of the projects listed in the DCP update, the money didn’t come from the Mayor’s Office: The projects and parks were implemented through his own district’s discretionary funding, or by that of Councilmember Rafael Espinal, who represents a portion of Bushwick, or even the office of the Brooklyn borough president.

Reynoso made it clear that while these current projects are valuable, the negotiation about actual investments to be made in Bushwick is just beginning. Once the ULURP process begins, he said, the city will put its cards on the table regarding new capital commitments.

“I’m gonna be with the glass half full here, I’m gonna be the one doing the negotiation, and there’s no way anyone thinks I’m going to accept what they presented as investment,” he said. “I’m ready to negotiate a lot more.”

When the ULURP process starts, CB4 has an advisory vote; it’s the City Council that finally decides on whether to authorize a rezoning. Traditionally, councilmembers have followed the lead of the local representative, and Reynoso has said that he won’t approve of the plan if the community doesn’t.

Of course, if the board votes against the rezoning plan, but attaches recommendations, he’s willing to work with the city to get to a compromise, so long as the Bushwick community is happy.

“None of us is being fooled here,” he said. “We know exactly what that conversation needs to be.”

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

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