Controversial Williamsburg Housing Project Moves To City Council For Final Vote

A ground view rendering of the proposed Broadway Triangle project.

The fight for the redevelopment of the Pfizer Sites in North Brooklyn is officially headed to the New York City Council for final approval.

The plan to create over 1,100 units of mixed-income housing on privately owned sites in Williamsburg took a major step forward today as the City Planning Commission (CPC) voted to approve the project 9-1.

A Bird’s eye view rendering of the Broadway Triangle project.

The approval comes on off the heels of a months-long battle between the developers, the Rabsky Group, and local community members, the Broadway Triangle Coalition, who have been at odds over the affordability of the project since it’s inception. Earlier this year, five members of the Coalition including its chair, Juan Ramoswere arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after protesting the project at the City Planning Commission’s July public meeting.

The recent approval, has only increased Ramos’ fight for affordable housing in the neighborhood as he will now look to members of the City Council for support in fighting against the project.

“It’s going to take a lot of grassroots organizing to get to every council member on the ground and let them know why this plan is no good. And to remind them that they’re either going to stop the project from going through and it’s going to be politics as usual, or they can stand for something and say, ‘this community is going to be impacted’ and stand against it,” said Ramos.

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.

Longtime Williamsburg non-profit organization Southside United HDFC-Los Sures, believes the main issue with the project lies in its “tale of affordability”, a term many believe has little resonance with a community struggling with displacement and rising rent costs.

“Affordable housing is a term that doesn’t really make sense. Affordable for who? How much? Low income, middle-income, what is it? It’s all lumped together as affordable housing but when it comes down to each project, they [City] divides it into income levels. There needs to be a real standard for how many units are going to be built for each category because it’s not benefiting the people in the Southside for sure,” said Barbara Schliff, Tenant Organizing Director for Southside United HDFC-Los Sures.

City Councilman Stephen Levin

However, the project has support from local Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Williamsburg, Boerum Hill), who believes the redevelopment plan is a step forward in bringing affordable housing to his district citing the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program.

If approved, the project would be the first major private application without discretionary city subsidy to be approved as part of the recently enacted Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program. MIH requires all residential developments that are enabled through a rezoning to create on-site affordable units and is aimed at fulfilling the city’s goal of creating or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing.

“It is a positive step that the City Planning Commission has voted to approve the Pfizer redevelopment project. As an MIH project, this project would bring the first mandatory affordable housing units in South Williamsburg in many years. We look forward to taking up the proposal next at the City Council,” said Levin.

Approximately 287 units, 25 percent of the total residential component of the development, will be permanently affordable, with residents selected by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development through the agency’s affordable housing lottery system.

In addition to building the permanently affordable housing, Harrison Realty has committed to paying the prevailing wage to building service workers, hiring local workers for both the construction and operation of the development, and sponsoring affordable housing lottery workshops in the community through the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

The site, sits between Harrison and Union Avenues, from Walton Street to Gerry Street, and is a 4.2-acre site that will include 1146 units of mixed-income housing, 65,000 square feet of neighborhood retail, and a half-acre of public open space. The developer is undertaking the privately funded project on private property without public capital funds.

Construction for the development is projected to begin by January 2018, with an expected opening in 2019.

Schliff went on to warn that Levin’s support in the project could mean a sealed deal for the developers on the Pfizer site.

“We’re very concerned because traditionally a City Council member whose district that a proposed rezoning is in, when they vote to approve or disapprove, that is the last step. We are have been reaching out to various Council members to try and get their support so they won’t blindly go along with the Council member [Levin],” said Schliff.  

City Councilman Antonio Reynoso

Among the key legislative opponents of the project is City Council Member Antonio Reynoso (DWilliamsburg, Bushwick), whose district is adjacent to the site.

“I stand with the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, which represents low-income residents of color in Williamsburg, Bedford Stuyvesant, and Bushwick, in opposition to this proposal. The over 800 units of market-rate housing planned for this site will exacerbate gentrification and displacement of our already threatened communities, and what’s worse, we have no guarantee that the planned affordable housing units will meet the existing community’s needs,” said Reynoso.

“In addition, Rabsky Group has proved itself to be an unaccountable and irresponsible developer at other sites they own in Brooklyn.  The coalition of opposition to this project is grows everyday, and I want to express my solidarity with them and make it clear that I will continue to oppose this plan when it comes before City Council,” he added.

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