Williamsburg East River towers advance

Two Williamsburg residential towers near approval after City acts to apply 20 percent inclusionary affordable housing text to development. On June 5, 2006, the Council’s Land Use Committee voted to approve a 591,138-square-foot residential and retail development along the East River waterfront in Williamsburg, outside of the City’s recent rezoning. Along with the development, the Land Use Committee approved a separate zoning amendment application initiated by the Planning Department that would apply the City’s Inclusionary Housing Program to the site.

Rector Hylan Corporation, owner of the 2.89-acre site on Kent Avenue and South 8th Street, originally filed for approval of a two-tower development with 628,870 sq.ft. of floor area (5 FAR), 450 housing units, 26,413 sq.ft. of retail space and 225 parking spaces. Both buildings would rise six stories along Kent Avenue before setting back to total heights of 24 and 18 stories.

The project required waivers for height and setback and a map amendment to rezone the manufacturing and commercially-zoned site to permit residential units (M3- 1/C4-3 to R7-3). Rector’s site contains three buildings formerly used by the Kedem Winery and now partially occupied by a yeshiva and a sales office for the adjacent Schaefer Landing residential building.

Rector’s development faced significant opposition by residents, Community Board 1 and Borough President Marty Markowitz as it wound through the City’s review process. Opposition focused on the loss of industrial lots and the need for affordable housing. Rector indicated that it was willing to provide the equivalent of 20 percent of the project’s total units, roughly 90 units, of affordable housing, either within the development or off-site. The opposition called Rector’s commitment insufficient since it would not trigger the City’s oversight.

When the project reached Planning Commission review, the Planning Department applied for a separate, linked text amendment that would apply the Greenpoint- Williamsburg Inclusionary Housing Program to the lot. The amendment would require that Rector provide affordable housing on- or off-site equal to 20 percent of the total units in the project if it wanted to exceed a floor area limit of 471,652 sq.ft. (a 3.75 FAR). The Commission also required that the project’s height be restricted to 65 feet along Kent Avenue. This modification reduced the project by 37,733 sq.ft. down to a 4.7 FAR.

At the hearing before the Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, Catherine Herman of Southside United Housing Development Fund Corporation testified to her group’s remaining opposition. Market-rate housing development, Herman argued, fails to reflect the neighborhood’s current income levels, fuels property value escalation and displaces residents. Herman pointed to the recent fire along Williamsburg’s waterfront as a potential grave consequence of the area’s rising property values. Herman urged the Council to require Rector to build the affordable units on site and increase its commitment to 40 percent affordable housing. Council Member David Yassky, who sat in on the Subcommittee, noted his support of the project and asked if Herman thought displacement was likely if the buildings remained unchanged. Herman responded “when someone says that we can’t ask developers to do more, I say ‘that is your choice.’” Noting that units in Rector’s building would sell for over $1 million, Herman stated that Schaefer Landing’s developer agreed to 40 percent affordable housing at a time when projected sales were $300,000 per unit.

The Subcommittee voted unanimously to approve the Planning Department rezoning and Rector’s project without modification, sending both to the Land Use Committee. Approval of both matters seems likely at the full Council vote scheduled for June 13, 2006.

ULURP Process
Kedem Winery
Lead Agency: CPC,Cond.Neg.Dec.
Comm.Bd: BK 1, Against, 34-1-2
Boro. President: Against
CPC: App’d, 12-1-0

Greenpt./Williamsburg Text
Lead Agency: CPC,Neg.Dec.
Comm.Bd.: BK 1, App’d, 29-0-0
Boro. President: App’d
CPC: App’d, 13-0-0

CPC: Kedem Winery (C 020517 ZSK – special permit, setback, height, tower size); (C 020518 ZMK – map amendment); (N 020516 ZCK – waterfront access cert.) (May 8, 2006) (Barbara Hair, Cozen O’Connor, Henry Stolzman, Passanella + Klein Stolzman + Berg Architects, for Kedem); Greenpoint/ Williamsburg Inclusionary Housing Text (N 060413 ZRK – map amendment) (May 22, 2006). CITYADMIN

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