Menchaca approval of Sunset Park plan praised by developer
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D-Red Hook-Sunset Park) on Tuesday announced his support for a rezoning proposal that would bring a 14-story mixed-use housing development with 33 permanently affordable units to 737 Fourth Ave. in Sunset Park.
Critics of Menchaca have called him an obstructionist to private sector
development, which they feel is necessary for job growth. But they note that his support of this particular project shows the political acumen of someone planning to run for higher office. Sunset Park observers of his anti-development stance were surprised that he supported the project after the anti-development group, Protect Sunset Park, held a rally at the site urging him to vote against the project.
The councilmember, who has often been critical of development, sees it as a good opportunity for the neighborhood, despite the fact that he believes it “is not perfect” in that plans don’t call for 100 percent affordable units.
“It does represent the clearest example yet of the only thing that will break and reverse the cycle of displacement and gentrification forever — community-driven and accountable development,” he said of 737 Fourth Ave., which would replace a donut shop.
Vivian Liao, principal of Totem, the project’s developer, said she was “excited” with Menchaca’s decision and a City Council zoning subcommittee’s approval of the proposal.
“We have worked closely with the community to design a project that helps meet the needs of long-time Sunset Park residents and also works to address the city’s critical housing shortage,” she said. “This project and the broad reaching Community Benefits Agreement that we have signed alongside several community groups is an example of how privately-led development can keep local needs at the heart of their work.”
Menchaca mentioned that while he opposed the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, the Brooklyn Queens Connector and the rezoning of Industry City, this proposal is different.
“From the beginning, the Community Board (7), which is the most democratic and participatory forum we have in the neighborhood, took control of this rezoning proposal,” Menchaca said. “It invited the developer to follow the community’s lead, held multiple hearings open to all to decide whether or how to support the project, and democratically voted to approve the project with conditions.”
Development firm Totem agreed to meet all the board’s conditions, then codified them in a binding contract in the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).
“I understand why the Community Board approved this project,” Menchaca said. ”The CBA requires the developer to build 33 permanently affordable housing units; reserve a third of its commercial space for local businesses; hire majority local or union workers for all construction and permanent jobs; create 150 bike stations of which a third will be reserved for delivery workers; and grants the MTA a free easement to build an ADA-accessible elevator to the 25th Street R Station.”
In total, the development will include 134 apartments. The Community Benefits agreement was signed by the Fifth Avenue Committee, a well-known non-profit community development corporation; Totem itself; Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, which focuses on creating employment opportunities; Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation; and Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, which also focuses on employment, job training and education.
The rezoning necessary for the new development has also been approved by Community Board 7, Borough President Eric Adams and the City Planning Commission.
Still, not all are happy with the proposal.
The organization Protect Sunset Park on Sunday held a rally at the site opposing the plan and asked that Menchaca vote down and veto it.
“They will argue that city leaders can start redistributing capital funding in the upcoming budget to create the kind of community land trusts and housing cooperatives that can instead create 100 percent affordable housing,” the group wrote in an email.
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