A former Pfizer factory site in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn will be redeveloped into 1,146 housing units, 62,810 square feet of commercial space, 26,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, and 404 parking spaces. On September 19, 2017, the City Planning Commission issued a favorable report on land use applications by Harrison Realty LLC. The land use applications include: (1) a zoning map amendment to change the current manufacturing district into a residential district with a commercial overlay, and (2) a zoning text amendment to establish a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing area on the site.
I. The Project
The project area, totaling 182,366 square feet, is bounded by Union Avenue to the west, Walton Street to the north, Harrison Avenue to the east, and Gerry Street to the south. The area is currently zoned for heavy industrial and limited commercial uses. The Pfizer factory that occupied the space closed in 2007, and the land was sold to private owners. Now, it is used for surface parking and storage. However, the area is surrounded by residential row houses, apartment buildings, Marcy Houses complex, schools, houses of worship, transportation, and small commercial establishments. The applicant proposes to rezone the project area to residential (R7A, R7D, and R8A) districts with a commercial (C2-4) overlay to facilitate mixed-use development consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.
This rezoning will make underutilized property active and consistent with the current neighborhood. An existing R7A district east of the project area would be extended across Harrison Avenue by 100 feet. An R7D district combined with a commercial overlay requires the ground floor of new buildings to have non-residential uses and meet urban design requirements for active streetscapes. R8A districts allow high-density residential use, and also trigger urban design treatment when combined with a commercial overlay.
The proposed development contains 8 mixed-use buildings—3 on the northern block and 5 on the southern block. The 3 northern block buildings will have 441 housing units, and the 5 southern block buildings will have 705 units, totaling 1,146 units. Under Option 1 for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, the proposed zoning text amendment will make 25% of the housing units, specifically 287, permanently affordable. 115 units will be available to households earning up to 40% of the Average Median Income (“AMI”) ($34,360); another 115 units will be for households earning up to 60% AMI ($51,540); the remaining 57 units will be for those earning a maximum of 100% AMI ($85,900).
Publicly accessible open space will bisect the development. The space will be 65 feet wide and 400 feet long; extend from Walton Street to Gerry Street; and contain 25 trees, 1,460 square feet of planters, 400 linear feet of benches, 40 tables, 12 bicycle racks, and 18 trash and recycling receptacles. This open area will serve neighborhood residents, visitors of the new commercial establishments, and members of the public passing through 24 hours per day, 364 days per year. These required accommodations will be memorialized in a Restrictive Declaration.
II. The ULURP Process
Brooklyn Community Board 1 recommended approval of the applications by a vote of 26-15 with 1 abstention. Public hearing occurred on June 6, 2017, and the vote on June 13. In response to hearing comments, the approval was coupled with the recommendation that the applicant commit in writing “to hire local workers for both the construction and operation of the development and to pay prevailing wages to service workers at the new site.” The Community Board also stressed the importance of affordable housing—demanding prior notice of the lottery for affordable units and noting the lack of affordable housing in the area for years.
On July 21, 2017, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams recommended disapproving the applications. However, Adams provided the following conditions: (1) more permanently affordable units for households earning a maximum 60% AMI; (2) coordination between the developer and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”) for restoring entrances to the G-line’s Flushing Avenue station; (3) written commitments from the developer on bedroom-mix of affordable units, use of local non-profits for the affordable housing lottery, resiliency and sustainability construction measures, use of Brooklyn-based contractors and subcontractors, and coordination with the Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection for curb extensions and bioswales; (4) consideration of rent-burdened status by the City Planning Commission when determining affordable housing eligibility; (5) inclusion of Community Districts 1 and 3 and former residents displaced since the 2005 Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning in local preference for affordable housing; and (6) a traffic study for demapping Gerry Street to enhance the playground of the Beginning with Children Charter School.
The City Planning Commission held a public hearing on July 26, 2017, where 16 speakers favored the applications and 7 speakers opposed. An applicant representative confirmed that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”) would select the administrator of the affordable housing lottery and that the developer would have no role in the process. Council Member Antonio Reynoso of neighboring District 34 spoke in opposition, expressing concern that “the developer had not met affordable housing commitments at the nearby Rheingold development in Bushwick.” Speakers from the building service workers union 32BJ SEIU also expressed concern that “the developer had failed to pay prevailing wages to workers in its other residential developments and did not use union employees.” Concerns were also expressed about rising housing costs and long-term resident displacement based on the 2005 Williamsburg-Greenpoint Rezoning.
Council Member Stephen Levin of District 33, where the development will occur, took a neutral position on the application while expressing the critical need for permanent affordable housing. This need was also expressed by the speakers in favor of the application, including 9 area residents. Other speakers stressed the need for jobs and economic development in the area, created by the commercial overlay.
The City Planning Commission found the zoning map and text amendments appropriate due to the development’s scale, community amenities, and consistency with the surrounding area. The Commission acknowledged all of the Borough President’s concerns and noted they were outside the scope of the ULURP process. However, the Commission stressed the City’s oversight role—HPD approves the layout and location of all Mandatory Inclusionary Housing apartments, their affordability levels, and the non-profit for affordable housing administration, as detailed in a regulatory agreement. In response to hearing comments, the Commission’s report concluded by defending ULURP as “a robust process that allows for significant community engagement.”
By: Shelby Hoffman (Shelby is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2017.)