Juan Ramos, Chair of the Broadway Triangle Coalition, along with four other local Williamsburg residents and activists were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct today for protesting the controversial Broadway Triangle project at the City Planning Commission public meeting.
The meeting was the next step in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process for the project to move forward. The former Pfizer site, which the city now owns, is a two-block area situated between Harrison and Union Avenues, from Walton Street to Gerry Street known as the Broadway Triangle area.
Developer the Rabsky Group are proposing eight mixed-use buildings for the site including 1,146 mixed-income residential units of which 287 will be permanently affordable units, 65,000 square feet of neighborhood retail, a half-acre of public open space, and 405 parking spaces.
The Broadway Triangle has been a contentious issue for local officials and community advocates, who have been fighting over the property for almost a decade. Back in 2009, community members sued the city claiming the Broadway Triangle Rezoning favored the Hasidic community over Black and Latinos.
“People of color are continually left out of the conversation about the development of the Broadway Triangle. What you see today is a protest of people finally doing whatever they need to be heard, to be seen but also to be respected because we called this place home when others wouldn’t touch it,” said Ramos.
This is the second time Ramos has led hundreds of protesters to disrupt a ULURP meeting, earlier this month they shut down Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams public meeting with hundreds of protesters en mass walking out. Adams eventually disapproved of the project citing inconsistencies in affordable housing, particularly when it came to the breakdown of unit sizes. Adams recommended the developers have a mix of studio, one and two or more bedroom size units.
The bedroom sizes for the affordable housing units has been a sticking point for the coalition who claims that any units with two or more bedrooms would favor the Hasidic community over the Black and Latino communities due to their traditionally larger families.
As a result, those against the project argue that the proposed development will only drive out Black and Latino families at disproportionately higher levels from the area and breed rising rent costs, economic influx and population increase.
“As you can see now, everything that has been developed in the Broadway Triangle up to this point, there are no black and brown faces in those developments and we see that as a problem. This project is going to bring in people who can afford luxury rentals and at the same time price out people who have called [South Williamsburg] home for a long time” said Ramos.
But Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director of the United Jewish Organization (UJO) of Williamsburg, argues that the recent discrimination claims are “anti-Semitic” and are only going to create a further rift between the Black, Jewish and Latino communities in the area.
However, the longtime Williamsburg non-profit organization Southside United HDFC-Los Sures, claim that their opposition is not about “anti-Semitism” but equality and fairness. They believe that they are being disproportionately targeted and displaced from their homes compared to the Jewish community.
“The issue here is affordable housing and it should be open to everyone. Housing is something everyone needs and everyone should have an equal opportunity at and everyone hasn’t,” said Barbara Schliff, Tenant Organizing Director for Southside United HDFC-Los Sures.
The Rabsky Group, have continued to maintain that the housing plan meets the needs of local residents and is a necessary revitalization project for the community.
“The plan will transform a long-vacant, highly contaminated site into mixed-income housing with new public open spaces and neighborhood retail. With 287 permanently affordable housing units, jobs for area residents, and open space, it is a project worthy of support. As the public review continues, we will encourage key decision makers to follow the lead of those closest to the site – the Community Board – which voted overwhelmingly to support the plan,” said Rabsky Group spokesperson Lisa Serbaniewicz.
City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Williamsburg, Boerum Hill) has yet to weigh-in on the project but has touted the controversy surrounding the plan as “political” and unconducive to bringing affordable housing to Williamsburg.
“The debate that has been going on has been about a lot of other things. We at the City Council and city government to consider projects on their own merit and application, not on some other controversy with a particular developer or on some other project that this developer didn’t propose,” said Levin.
The project sits in Levin’s district, a district he says has come a long way in diversity and development but is being hindered by a political battle.
Levin continued, “It’s not in the service in the community to draw this into longer term political disputes. A good portion of this has to deal with politics and I think that we should remove the politics and look at the issues with a clear eye.”
The City Planning Commission will issue their recommendation for approval or denial within the coming weeks before the project heads to the city council for a final official vote on whether to officially approve the project.