Greenpoint Gazette

Pratt Students Wade into Broadway Triangle Storm

BY Aaron Short

As the city’s plan for the rezoning of the Broadway Triangle slowly moves forward, several graduate students from Pratt University presented an alternative vision for the redevelopment of the site Monday night to an attentive audience of more than two hundred North Brooklyn residents.
The presentation, held at PS 250 (108 Montrose Avenue), was organized by the heads of the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, a loose association of more than fifty Brooklyn-based community and faith organizations who support the redevelopment of 31-acre site that sits on the border of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant.
“This will provide a chance for more community residents to see and comment on the visions developed by our diverse constituency and advance a truly community based planning process for the entire Triangle area,” said Juan Ramos, a board member of Churches United for Fair Housing. “BTCC not only included residents, local elected officials and community leaders, but also has been advised by a distinguished panel of planning experts, including two former City Planning Commissioners.”
The unveiling of an alternative development plan was the latest episode in a long and often tedious saga involving one of the largest city-owned properties in Brooklyn, which had been stalled for several decades. Many community leaders point to a meeting that occurred on October 30, 2007 that reignited interest in the site. At that time, city planning and housing officials met with the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council the United Jewish Organizations to discuss plans to develop several lots on the site for affordable housing. Members of the BTCC claimed they were excluded from negotiations regarding the Broadway Triangle, particularly a community charette that was scheduled for September 3, 2008, but was never held. Allies from both sides have been at odds over the development of the Triangle ever since.
At times, it seems like the groups are operating on parallel calendars. On May 13, the city’s housing department (HPD) accepted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Broadway Triangle. Two weeks later, BTCC members entertained a Pratt Institute urban planning proposal, led by graduate student Anusha Venkataraman, that nearly doubled the number of affordable housing units (3,600 to HPD’s 1,800), and increased the scope of the project from 26 acres to 42. On June 9th, City Planning will present the rezoning action for the Triangle at the monthly community board one meeting. BTCC organizers encouraged those who attended the presentation this week to flood the community board meeting and sign up for the public session. It is unlikely that the alternative plan will be a part of the June CB1 agenda.
“I think people should come to see a plan that is very narrow in scope that HPD is trying to force through which does not take into account the community outcry for more inclusion and the details of the plan as presented by the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition,” said Esteban Duran, a member of Community Board One and the BTCC.
Representatives from the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council could not be reached for comment, but have indicated that they expect city officials to approve the rezoning action and react favorably to the plan they have submitted. One political observer who attended the meeting, who was not affiliated with RBSCC or the UJO believes that the Pratt plan is unrealistic and questioned whether the city and the state would fund a comprehensive redevelopment with new retail corridors, open space, and a green waste-transfer system. The Pratt Institute’s Ron Shiffman tried to answer these criticisms by explaining that they have been adopted in poor neighborhoods overseas.
“A lot of these proposals you’ve seen here are futuristic, but a lot of these systems have been done in cities throughout the world,” said Shiffman. “We challenge the Mayor of the city of New York to put the substance behind the rhetoric. The gist of this project is doable. If we can’t do it now, we’ll never be able to do it.”
Despite the politics that surrounds the redevelopment, some community leaders such as Gerry Esposito, District Manager for CB 1 and a candidate for city council in the 34th District, praised the work of the graduate students for involving the community in the planning process. Esposito, along with Councilwoman Diana Reyna were the only candidates to attend the presentation meeting, despite the fact that the Broadway Triangle lies primarily in the 33rd District, the site of a seven-way race to replace incumbent Councilmember David Yassky.
“It is always rewarding to see our young people getting involved with planning issues for our community,” said Esposito. “(Pratt Institute professors) Ron Shiffman and Stuart Pertz should be commended for their stewardship of the studio.”

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