Richard Bearak, Director of Land Use for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, had originally intended to be an architect. But as an undergrad at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), Bearak unexpectedly developed an interest in city planning. After receiving a degree in Architectural Technology, Bearak was admitted to Hunter College’s urban planning graduate program in 1981.
Upon finishing school, Bearak worked in the private sector designing subdivisions and clustered developments in southwestern Connecticut. He later joined the staff of the Department of City Planning’s Queens Office for three and a half years, followed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development while obtaining a degree from NYIT in architecture and becoming a licensed architect. In December 1993, he left to work in Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden’s land use office as a senior planner. Bearak was later named the office’s Deputy Director of the Planning and Development Unit, and he continued in that position under Markowitz. In July 2009, Markowitz named Bearak the Director of Land Use.
Engaging the community. Bearak considers Markowitz as someone who thinks about what is “best for the community at large” instead of what is the most popular decision. As Director of Land Use, Bearak helps formulate Markowitz’s ULURP recommendations, develops the office’s housing development policy, and assists community boards and residents in all phases of the land use process. Bearak works “as closely as can be” with Markowitz. When it comes to ULURP applications, Bearak describes himself as the “technician” and Markowitz as the “decision maker.”
More affordable housing. Bearak said that private developers understand it as “par for the course” for Markowitz to seek affordable housing as part of his review of land use proposals. In August 2009, Markowitz recommended approval of HPD’s Broadway Triangle redevelopment plan to build 1,851 units of housing, including 844 affordable units, on a 31-acre parcel in South Williamsburg. In his recommendation, however, Markowitz requested that all the City-owned sites be developed entirely with permanent affordable housing. He also advocated for an additional 150 units of affordable housing by tweaking the Inclusionary Housing Program regulations.
Following approval by the City Council, a State Supreme Court Justice issued an order stopping the City from moving forward with the plan after a community group argued the plan violated federal law because of its discriminatory impacts on racial and religious minorities. The group requested a preliminary injunction in mid- March, and that decision is pending.
Weighing the benefits. In his recommendation for Rose Plaza on the River, a controversial development along Williamsburg’s waterfront currently before the City Council, Markowitz approved the applicant’s rezoning and text amendment applications but disapproved the special permit requested to increase the bulk and height of the project. According to Bearak, Markowitz felt that the community should have gained more in exchange for the economic benefits that the developer would derive from the special permit, beyond the planned open space along the waterfront. Markowitz wanted substantially more three- and four-bedroom affordable units and an increase in the percentage of affordable housing in order to make the development open to more of the area’s middle-income families.
Working with Landmarks. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is in the early stages of considering a proposal by preservationists and residents to expand the Carroll Gardens Historic District. While groups like the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association favor expanding the historic district to protect the area from overdevelopment, other residents oppose the expansion because of the constraints it would place on future exterior home improvements. Critics also believe landmarking would intensify gentrification in the neighborhood.
Bearak said the Borough President’s Office takes “supportive” rather than “explicit” positions when it comes to landmark actions. Still, Bearak anticipates that the Borough President’s Office, which has a longstanding relationship with the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, will continue to provide technical support as residents seek to determine where there can be a consensus on this controversial issue. — Matthew Windman