Old Pfizer Facility Rezoned for mixed uses. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer operated out of a modest red-brick building located at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Bartlett Street in the Broadway Triangle neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn until Pfizer relocated in 2007. In 2012, Harrison Realty, LLC. purchased Pfizer’s Brooklyn real estate for $12,750,000. Since purchasing the Pfizer Site, the building has been demolished and the site officially designated a ‘brownfield.’ Harrison rented the site out as short-term equipment and vehicle storage for nearby construction sites.
On February 24, 2015, Harrison initiated a rezoning of the Pfizer Sites from manufacturing to mixed residential and commercial use by submitting a Land Use Review Application and development proposal to the Department of City Planning. The application pledged to erect eight mixed-use buildings, the tallest of which would be fourteen stories and the shortest of which would be six stories. The buildings would contain 1,146 residential apartments, house an estimated 4,072 people, and provide 63,000 square feet of commercial space and 26,000 square feet of required publicly accessible open space. In accordance with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing provisions of the City’s zoning rules, 287 apartments, representing 25% of the residential floor area, would be low-to-moderate-income units.
On June 13, 2017, the Brooklyn Community Board voted to recommend that the City approve the proposed. On September 19, 2017, the City Planning Commission approved the proposed rezoning. On October 26, 2017, the New York City Council’s Land Use Committee voted to recommend the proposed rezoning, and on October 31st, the full City Council approved the proposed rezoning, which became final and official on November 6, 2017, after Mayor de Blasio declined to veto it.
On February 28, 2018, a collation led by Churches United for Fair Housing, Inc. sued to void the City’s approval of the Pfizer Project. Churches argued that the City failed to further fair housing as required by Section 3608 of the Fair Housing Act. Churches argued that the rezoning and subsequent development will impose a disparate impact upon racial minorities, and will further segregate the Broadway Triangle neighborhood.
Justice Arthur F. Engoron dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint, explaining that Section 3608 of the Fair Housing Act did not provide a private right of action. Additionally, Justice Engoron found that the housing development will not create a disparate impact because anyone can apply for and live at either the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing residences or the market-rate residences so long as they meet the income and family-composition requirements.
On appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of Churches’ complaint. The Justices agreed that there was no private right of action under the Federal Housing Act’s “affirmatively further fair housing” provision. Even if such a right did exist the City’s facially race-neutral measures met its obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. The City was not required to forecast what ethnicities were expected to occupy the developed units or assess the corresponding impact on area racial and ethnic patterns.
Churches United for Fair Hous., Inc. v. De Blasio, 119 N.Y.S.3d 467, 469 (1st Dep’t 2020).
By: Yuval Rosenthal (Yuval is a New York Law School student, Class of 2022.)