Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Snags in Greenpoint-Williamsburg Re-zoning

By Paul Moses

For more than a year, the ongoing controversy surrounding the city's re-zoning of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront has been reported on in such papers as the Greenpoint Star, the Daily News' Brooklyn section and the Village Voice. The New York Times has now contributed a Nov. 6 piece by Damien Cave, "City Sees Growth; Residents Call It Out of Control." I was glad to have read to the bottom of the piece, because that's where gracefully worded heart of the story was:

The gap between the sprint of the market and the amble of government may also have doomed the expected growth of affordable housing inland, where most people live. The city promised in its plan that 640 new apartments for low- and middle-income families would be created in these areas over roughly a decade.

While developers on the waterfront have taken advantage of a provision that let them construct taller buildings if they set
aside at least 20 percent of the apartments for such families, most developers inland have not bothered with a similar program.

With only nine units scheduled so far to be built inland, according to Housing Preservation and Development, Mr. Doctoroff conceded that
the city’s incentives for providing less expensive housing inland may have arrived late, after developers formed their plans.

“There might be a slight timing mismatch,” he said. “But I
don’t think it’s significant, and I don’t think it will, over all, undermine the program we put in place.”

David Yassky, the city councilman representing the area, offered a harsher assessment, calling the housing program inland “a failure.”

Peter Gillespie, a member of the community advisory board created to work with the city after the rezoning, said several hot-button issues
still needed attention.

The city has met only twice with the advisory board, “and it
took us a lot of effort” to get those meetings, he said. At the second one on Thursday, community residents asked the city to establish a part-time community liaison to handle all the construction complaints. Members of the board also wanted to know why two properties set aside for waterfront parkland — by the Bushwick inlet and on Commercial Street — had not yet been acquired.

The delay in acquiring the second property, owned by the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has held up the $2 million for a “tenant legal fund” to fight harassment and displacement. Under the provisions of the rezoning, the money was set to come from the sale of air rights to the site.

City officials said they had struggled to find an appropriate new location for the transportation authority and that they would
find another way to finance the tenant program. But it might take several months, advocates said.

And for some people, they said, that may be too long. “We
needed that money two years ago, three years ago and now,” said Mr. Bikowski, the tenant advocate. “There’s no reason to wait until the thing is over.”

The two paragraphs I've highlighted in bold ought to have been more prominent in the story. Instead, the story has a much weaker theme higher up:

City officials say that their plan is right on schedule, especially by the waterfront, where construction has started on projects that will produce 460 below-market apartments, plus an initial few acres of parkland.

But among many residents and community leaders, there is a nagging sense that the government has not moved fast enough to keep pace with developers.

I would say there is something more than a "nagging sense" among community leaders that the city government has failed them. The annual Community District Needs Statement for Greenpoint-Williamsburg's Community Board 1 begins this way:

"There is a wave upon us. Not a wave of destruction but a
wave of construction. ... This tide of grief has already created a climate of highly inflated rents, denied lease renewals to residential and commercial tenants and a forced exodus of longtime commercial tenants into the less desirable areas and even out of state .... this wave destroys dreams for the homesteaders, the poor, middle working class of this community - the people who chose to stay, when in fact it was not trendy or chic."

The community board notes that the city's plan to protect local residents against displacement, reached as part of the re-zoning deal, has yet to be implemented:

"By the time the trickle down effect of affordable units come on line, the community will have been resettled by new faces from other
areas and the displaced residents a mere memory."

The news that a good chunk of the affordable housing envisoned in the May, 2005 re-zoning may not materialize is an important development with significant implications. The Greenpoint-Williamsburg re-zoning was hailed as a groundbreaking plan when it was announced. But if the ground broken turns out to be the lesson that a massive inclusionary zoning plan won't work as planned, it will become much more difficult to do the next time.