Greenpoint Gazette

The Fight for the Triangle

BY Juliet Linderman

The rezoning of the Broadway Triangle, a 50-acre industrial area that stretches across Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bed Stuy, has become one of the most hotly contested projects in the neighborhood, with competing community groups fighting for control of the plans. The controversy is cast in the shadow of political dealings, and represents much more than the struggle for affordable housing and responsible development—it is about community agency, access to information, control over decision-making processes and power.
At Tuesday’s Community Board 1 meeting, the Broadway Triangle pressure cooker erupted into a near riot as protesters filled the conference room at Swingin’ Sixties Senior Center, spilling out into the hallway and onto Ainslie Street, shouting down representatives from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), who had been invited to the monthly public hearing to present the finalized rezoning plans. The plans will now enter the ULURP process, and be voted on by the Board sometime in the next sixty days.
The protesters—raucous to no end—were mostly members of the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition (BTCC), an alliance of more than 40 community groups and organizations who claim that the planning process for the rezoning was conducted behind closed doors, without consideration for or input from the community it will directly impact.
Under the city’s plan, the Triangle—which is currently made up of both publicly and privately owned properties—will provide nearly 2,000 units of moderate density affordable housing in low-rise buildings. In addition, portions of the Triangle will also be zoned to preserve commercial businesses in the area. Though the need for affordable housing is a universal sentiment among all neighbors, BTCC has created an alternate plan that includes more units of affordable housing in taller, higher-density buildings. The impetus for Tuesday night’s protest—and all subsequent demonstrations, of which there have been several over the past two years—was not about the zoning plan itself, but about the process, which members of BTCC feel was exclusionary, unfair and undemocratic, and are fighting for the opportunity to present HPD and the city with their alternative plan for consideration.
“They want us to comment on the city’s plan, but we want our own plan,” said Marty Needelman, Project Director and Chief Counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services A and an integral part of BTCC. “They have excluded every African American community group from the planning process, and 90 per cent of Latino communities. There is only one group involved in the development process. It is a total political sellout of the worst kind—if this was South Africa or Birmingham, it would be racism and segregation, but in New York City it’s democracy at work.”
El Puente Executive Director Luis Garden Acosta echoed this sentiment, and implored the Board to throw out the HPD presentation and schedule a new meeting, during which BTCC would have a chance to present their plan alongside HPD’s. “People have vested interests, and they ought to stand up against this attack on our community, and on democracy,” Acosta said. “This process has been poisoned by the politics of self interest. I am hoping [the Board] will reject that presentation in favor of a new one.”
Esteban Duran, a member of BTCC who also sits on the Community Board, was also hoping that the protest would result in the declaration of a separate meeting dedicated to the Broadway Triangle alone, and expressed his disappointment in the Board for refusing to reschedule the meeting.
“I feel disrespected by the Board, as a CB1 member,” Duran said. “If they won’t listen to us, we won’t listen to them. There have been developments in Greenpoint that we’ve been waiting on for years, and for some reason they are pushing Broadway Triangle through without hearing us out. This is a sweetheart deal.”
However, the protesters weren’t the only ones feeling disrespected. The constant disruption, publicly noted as such by several community members, prevented the Board from being able to pay attention to the plan—which, though the goal of the protest in the first place, was viewed by certain Board members as counterproductive.
“I am saddened that I didn’t get to hear the plan. We have to vote on this! I need to understand it,” said Executive Board member Del Teague. “I have no problem with the community coming out and being upset, but we need to be able to hear what HPD has to say, and get a sense of the big picture.”
The rezoning plan presented by HPD represents an agreement, over three years in the making, between the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, Inc. (RBSCC), who provide various social services to the Bushwick, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Ridgewood, Glendale and surrounding communities; and United Jewish Organizations (UJO), who provide social services to the Hasidic community in Williamsburg. Both organizations have long histories of providing and managing affordable housing projects.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who led the way in bringing together RBSCC and UJO, insisted that the community has in fact had ample opportunity to contribute to the plan over the years, and his goal is to provide as much affordable housing as possible in compliance with contextual rezoning, a design that has been widely supported by the community across the board.
“I am for an affordable housing plan that includes 100 per cent affordability, that is 6 or 8 stories high that is within contextual rezoning design, and I am in favor of this plan moving forward and being implemented because the residents of Williamsburg need affordable housing in the near future,” Lopez said. “I am one of the four elected officials that represent the Broadway Triangle site—along with Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Councilman David Yassky and Senator Dilan—and each one of them has gone on record for affordable housing and an expeditious review process, and I hope I’m treated in that category.”
Assemblyman Lentol said that although he is saddened by the fact that the community feels disenfranchised, he believes that the HPD plan should be taken seriously as a community compromise that, in the end, will accomplish a great deal.
“I’m happy that something has been done, and I’m unhappy that people are upset,” Lentol said. “But, it really took Nixon going to China—someone, like Lopez, from the Latino Community forging a relationship with the Hasidic community to get this done, otherwise everybody would be complaining about what they want or should have and not working for a compromise, and that’s what this is: a compromise of needs for each respective community.”
Many other community members and elected officials steadfastly maintain that, though affordable housing is the ultimate goal, community participation must take precedence—process is just as important as results, and the process was undemocratic.
Councilmember Diana Reyna, who made a cameo appearance at Tuesday night’s meeting, urged HPD to consider the alternative plan, and expressed that “this community has the same track record, has expressed the same dedication and commitment to what is most necessary for us to develop, and does not want to be disregarded. A plan that is community driven is what I support—we cannot continue to accept mediocre, or be sold a good piece of a pie when we are getting crumbs. I am supporting my community first, before politics.”
Similarly, Evelyn Cruz representing Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, said that the Congresswoman is planning to meet with the commissioner of HPD “so the coalition of over 40 organizations will have an opportunity to present a plan that incorporates the principals of urban policy—fair, transparent process that is inclusionary, whereby the locality can engage with stakeholders and residents. The Congresswoman believes that not one person or group can offer the best solution, it must be collaborative.”
Though the community board was expecting to take a two-month sabbatical in July and August, a public hearing is scheduled for July 14, to revisit this issue.

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