Council Land Use Subcommittee Hears Testimony on Proposal for New Willamsburg Mixed-Use Manufacturing Building

Rendering of the proposed development. Image credit: Steelblue

Rendering of the proposed development. Image credit: Steelblue

The new building would bring manufacturing-based jobs to an industrial district, which has shifted focus to nightlife-oriented buildings and activities in the past few decades. On June 14, 2016, the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held a public hearing on an application for a zoning text amendment to allow for industrial space to be built in an area zoned for community space and for a special permit to amend off-street parking requirements to allow for the inclusion of zoning docks. The application seeks to facilitate the development of a new mixed-use manufacturing and commercial building at 25 Kent Avenue, located in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

The new 8-story, 380,000 square-foot building would be located completely within the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) and would bring an estimated 1,500 new, permanent jobs to the IBZ. Seventeen percent of the building would be used for light industrial and manufacturing space, which would be located on the second and third floors of the building, while 42 percent of the building would be used for commercial office space and retail space.

Council Member Stephen Levin, who represents the district wherein the proposed building would be built, spoke at the hearing before hearing testimony from the applicant team. He noted that the Williamsburg community has “become a nightlife and hotel district,” which is “not acceptable to the City Council.” According to Council Member Levin, the proposal represents an opportunity to bring new manufacturing space into an IBZ that has largely been stripped of its manufacturing opportunities, which has caused the loss of many good manufacturing jobs over the past few decades.

At the June 14th Hearing, Heritage Equity Partners CEO Toby Moskowitz, developer for the proposed building and third-generation Williamsburg-based entrepreneur, spoke on behalf of the applicant team in favor of the proposal. Moskowitz testified that the proposed building would be the first mixed-use development to “create substantial industrial space without public subsidy or a designated tenant.” Further, she testified that the application represents the first time a woman-owned company sought support from the New York City Council for the development of commercial property in Brooklyn.

Slater and Beckerman’s Raymond Levin, land use attorney for the proposed development and lifelong Brooklyn resident, testified that the new development would provide for light industrial space, open space, and an enlivened streetscape without having to change the underlying zoning district or increase the density of the property beyond what is already permitted. According to Levin, the developments that currently exist in the Industrial Business Zone are nightclubs, self-storage facilities, and other non-manufacturing uses. Additionally, Levin noted that the proposed zoning text amendment would provide a self-imposed height limit of 135 feet and would require the maintenance of a quarter-acre of public space.

Subcommittee Chair Donovan Richards questioned the applicant team about the operation and use of the proposal’s public space, commercial space, and nature of the jobs it anticipates providing to the community. Raymond Levin responded by testifying that the proposal plans for two public plazas, each of which would provide 400 square feet of passive public space for use by the community. Moskowitz testified that the proposed development would bring in companies who are “home grown in the borough, like the Etsy-ies of the world,” which in turn harness an employee base in the Brooklyn borough.

Council Member Levin questioned the applicant team on what is unappealing about the current state of the zoning text for the purposes of the proposed building. Raymond Levin testified that while the current zoning text would facilitate the construction of 380,000 square feet of space, more than half would mandatorily be for community facility use, such as ambulatory face facilities, medical offices, and houses of worship.

Council Member David Greenfield spoke highly of the purpose of the application by noting that right now, the applicants could technically build a hotel as-of-right, even though Brooklyn is in need of new office spaces and manufacturing spaces. Further, Council Member Greenfield noted that the proposal does not request additional space—just a different use of the currently permissible space—and the zoning text amendment would apply solely to the site at issue, which is ideal because the proposed zoning text amendment has been tailored for the specific site. The issue, according to Council Member Greenfield, is that developers don’t seem to want to build manufacturing space because it isn’t very competitive on the open market, and he expressed his happiness in seeing that the developers here are willing to take the risk without doing so on the taxpayers’ dime.

Brooklyn Community Board 1 voted to approve the development on March 8, 2016, the Brooklyn Borough President approved it on April 8, 2016, and the City Planning Commission issued its recommendation in favor of the proposed development on May 25, 2016.

City Council: 19-25 Kent Avenue (LU 0398-2016; LU 0399-2016; LU 0400-2016) (June 14, 2016).

By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

One thought on “Council Land Use Subcommittee Hears Testimony on Proposal for New Willamsburg Mixed-Use Manufacturing Building

  1. I hope there will be some kind of planned parking space for the 1500 new workers in the area. Street Parking is limited, though less expensive, but 1500 new workers with no new parking will be a burden on air quality and quality of life for residents as workers drive round and round looking for parking. I live within view of the FDR Drive. Many people commute from northern Manhattan and the Bronx and further north by car to work in “our” new Brooklyn. They need parking. 3-4 subways doesn’t do it. Thank you.

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