A Message to Greenpoint from Council Member Stephen Levin

A week or so ago we published an article titled The Conspiracy Against The People Opposed To Greenpoint Landing, after the painful and last public meeting about the high rise towers inevitably to rise on Greenpoint’s waterfront.

That evening while sipping on a beer at Brouwerij Lane, a call with a NJ area code appeared on my phone. It was Stephen Levin and he was pretty insulted by our decision to run that post. I stood outside in the cold while he explained to me (in many words) what I have invited him to share with you.

Yes we have been extremely critical of him and will continue to be as long as he makes decisions that we feel are not in the best interest of Greenpoint. I did offer him the opportunity to explain himself here. After, I invite readers to reply in the comment section. (Keep it classy.)

A letter from your Council Member Stephen Levin:

Dear Greenpoint Community,

Over the past two weeks, the City Council voted to pass two zoning actions in Greenpoint-1) an amendment to the Greenpoint Landing project, which was the largest single project in the 2005 Williamsburg-Greenpoint Waterfront rezoning and 2) an action that would allow the transfer of the “air rights” (aka development rights) from 65 Commercial Street (currently the MTA parking lot) over to the neighboring building site, 77 Commercial Street.  I want to address the legitimate concerns that I’ve been hearing from many local residents about the scale and size of these projects, as well as some of the confusion about what was actually on the table with these recent zoning actions.

I have heard from hundreds of Greenpoint residents about their opposition to these projects, about how the neighborhood infrastructure cannot handle the massive increased population, about the transportation needs of the community, about the environmental hazards in the community, about the need for affordable housing and open space, and how the advent of the 30- and 40-story towers threaten the identity and livability of our neighborhood.  All of these concerns are valid, compelling, and need to be addressed.  Why then, did I vote yes on these zoning actions?  Why not just turn them down?

First, I think it needs to be clearly stated–the 2005 Williamsburg-Greenpoint Waterfront rezoning happened in 2005.  Like it or not (and I don’t like it any more than you do), the 2005 rezoning carries the full force of law.  As a result, every property owner from North 5th Street to Greenpoint Landing along the waterfront (and there are 10 of them by my count) can build 30- and 40-story towers as-of-right.  I have yet to meet an attorney or land-use expert who thinks it is possible to “undo” the 2005 rezoning, and I’ve asked a lot of them.  The opportunity to challenge the 2005 rezoning in court, called an “article 78″, expired about 8 years ago.

Williamsburg-Greenpoint was a hallmark Bloomberg rezoning.  It was, in my opinion, deeply flawed, allowed profoundly too much density and height, did not properly plan for infrastructure improvement nor adequately set aside funding for open space, and neglected the future need for commercial development and the emerging economy of tech businesses and light manufacturing.  Instead, it implemented a vision of residential development akin to Long Island City or the west side of Manhattan, and it was entirely a Bloomberg administration vision.  It also very much belongs, in my opinion, to a bygone era, the housing bubble years before the recession in 2007.

During the 2005 rezoning, hundreds if not thousands of North Brooklyn residents fought tirelessly against the density of the rezoning, for more open space, more affordable housing, access to the waterfront, industrial retention, and many other forms of community benefits.  Although the rezoning ultimately passed, the strong community advocacy led to benefits in the form of commitments to many acres of open space, thousands of units of affordable housing, industrial retention through the IBZ program, an anti-tenant displacement fund and the establishment of an anti-tenant harassment area, and a new school for the Greenpoint community.  As anyone can see, we have achieved about one quarter of one of the promised parks (the Bushwick Inlet soccer field), dozens, not thousands, of units of affordable housing, and no school.  The zoning actions we took over the past two weeks addressed some of the unfulfilled promises that the Bloomberg administration made, not whether or not there would be large scale development here.

The choice I faced was this: if I voted in favor of the zoning actions, we would get the development with the open space, affordable housing, and school that were promised.  If I voted against the zoning actions, we would still get the development, just without the open space, affordable housing, and school.

Greenpoint Landing

Greenpoint Landing was, at 22 acres, the single largest project that was rezoned in 2005.  It has the as-of-right potential to build around 10 towers, 3,811 units of housing.  The developer is required to build around 950 units of affordable housing as part of the rezoning, but through a document called the 2005 rezoning “Points of Agreement” (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/274355-greenpoint-williamsburg-points-of-agreement.html) they also agreed to build another 431 units of affordable housing and the City agreed to build additional parkland at Newtown Barge Park.  The recent zoning actions we approved did not readdress the 2005 zoning, nor could it-it simply allowed for the “Points of Agreement” commitments to be achieved.  Specifically, they did the following: 1) allow for the sale of adjacent City property (“Lot 32″) to ensure that Greenpoint Landing builds 431 additional units of affordable housing (40% of AMI to 125% of AMI, about half lower income and half “moderate income”) from the 950 that they are required by law to do 2) transfer property to the School Construction Authority (SCA) to site an approximately 650 seat K-8 school for the neighborhood and 3) increase open space at Newtown Barge Park.  To be clear, the sale of “Lot 32″ and the transfer of the property to the School Construction Authority would allow Greenpoint Landing to build an additional 276 market rate units, from 3,811 to 4,087, or roughly 7%.

In addition, the City agreed to provide funding for a long-fought for complete Community District-wide transportation study and another $500,000 to reinstate the Tenant Anti-Harassment Fund for North Brooklyn.

I have also heard environmental concerns about the siting of the school on the corner of Dupont Street and Franklin Street because kitty-corner from the proposed school site is the former Nuhart factory, which is a New York State Superfund site.  In addition, we learned after the City Council hearing from New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) that the plume of Phthalates from the site has traveled underneath the street towards the school site.  Obviously, I share deep concerns about the potential health effects on children of such a siting and I assure the community that I would never do anything to put children’s health at risk.  That is why I insisted on stringent language that ensures that there is a thorough cleanup of the plume overseen by the NYS DEC before any ground is to be broken.  The language I insisted upon is more stringent than what NYS DEC and SCA may otherwise require.  If there is any environmental hazard underneath the street near the school site, that school cannot be built there.  And if the environmental hazard can’t be cleaned up, the School Construction Authority will have to site the school elsewhere.  Period.

To be absolutely clear, we never had the ability to approve or disapprove Greenpoint Landing in 2013.  It was approved in 2005.  We only had the ability to decide whether or not we would see the promised benefits of an additional 431 units of affordable housing, increased park space, and a new school in Greenpoint.

77 Commercial Street

I have also heard from many Greenpointers in opposition to the proposed project at 77 Commercial Street, and this a very difficult and complex decision that I made to approve this zoning action.  I think it is very important for everyone to understand exactly what was on the table with 77 Commercial Street and how we got there.  First, 77 Commercial Street was, like Greenpoint Landing, rezoned as part of the 2005 rezoning.  However, it was rezoned from manufacturing to an R6 designation (instead of the rest of the waterfront’s R6/R8 designation) which allows for two 15-story towers as-of-right.  In addition, 65 Commercial Street, the current City-owned MTA parking lot, was also zoned R6, meaning that it could also have similar residential towers on that site as-of-right.

The zoning action that we were considering was to allow for 77 Commercial Street to get “height and setback” requirement waivers to a maximum of 400 ft. (40 stories), which would allow for the merger of the zoning lots of 65 and 77 Commercial Street, thereby transferring all the development rights from 65 Commercial Street to 77 Commercial Street, so they can essentially stack whatever could be built as-of-right at 65 Commercial Street onto the pre-existing development rights at 77 Commercial Street. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_rights)  The sale of “air rights” is a fairly common practice which is generally done to maximize community benefits (open space, maintaining historic buildings, etc.) while allowing the full value of a piece of property to be realized.

The community fought hard in 2005 to make 65 Commercial Street, the MTA parking lot, a park for the Greenpoint community.  The Points of Agreement lays out a framework for a park to be achieved there (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/274355-greenpoint-williamsburg-points-of-agreement.html, pages 1-2, 9).  In the Points of Agreement, the City is to sell the “air rights” or development rights to an adjacent property, which would then generate funds (then assumed to be $12 million) for the City to provide $2 million for the Greenpoint Williamsburg Tenant Legal Fund and $10 million for the “Waterfront Affordable Housing and Infrastructure Fund.” The City at the time also agreed to put $14 million of City capital funding in place “for the creation of this open space and the relocation of the current MTA facilities” at 65 Commercial Street.  In addition, the sale of the “air rights” also required the purchaser to build 200 units of affordable housing, according to AMI’s laid out in the Points of Agreement, page 9.  In subsequent years, the Williamsburg Tenant Legal Fund was funded without the sale of the “air rights” due to the immediate need for it and the “site specific infrastructure costs” (i.e. esplanade costs) referenced in the “Waterfront Affordable Housing and Infrastructure Fund” have been paid for by the developers themselves, instead of the City, as they build out the esplanade.  The City then decided to take that $10 million in savings, plus the $2 million already spent on the Legal Fund, and apply that to the $14 million it committed to Box Street Park, thereby tying the sale of the “air rights” to the funding of Box Street Park.

By the time I took office in 2010, we had hit two snags.  First, the $14 million that the City had committed to the park was taken out of the budget when the recession hit in 2007-2008.  Second, the MTA and the City could not agree on a location for the MTA’s Access-a-Ride and Emergency Vehicles to go to, and their discussions had reached a stand-still.  Meanwhile, the community was continuing to strongly advocate for the promised park at 65 Commercial Street (http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/33/33/wb_commercialstreet_2010_08_06_bk.html) and the promised affordable housing, and we were collectively able to get the City and MTA to resume discussions about viable relocation sites.

In 2012, the City put out the RFP for the sale of the “air rights” of 65 Commercial Street, as they had committed to doing in the Points of Agreement.  Since the sale of “air rights” can only go to an adjacent property owner, only Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial Street could bid on them.  Greenpoint Landing declined to bid, leaving 77 Commercial Street as the only bidder.  Eventually, the City got 77 Commercial Street to bid $8.2 million for the “air rights”, significantly less than the $12 million they initially predicted, but since nobody else bid on the “air rights” other than 77 Commercial Street, the price was less.

As you all know, the initial proposal from 77 Commercial Street was totally unacceptable.  They proposed that the 200 units of affordable housing range from 80%-175% of AMI, with the majority being at 125% of AMI (AMI in New York City for 2013 is $85,900 for a family of four), and included a provision to move the Access-a-Ride vehicles (which take up about 85% of the MTA site) but left the Emergency Vehicles in place (about 15% of the MTA site).

After weeks of discussions, I was able to get the developer of 77 Commercial Street and the City to agree to AMI levels that are much more in line with the community’s needs and very close to the AMI levels laid out in the Points of Agreement, page 9.  The AMI’s they committed to were: 10 units at 40% of AMI ($34,360 for a family of four), 10 units at 50% of AMI ($42,950 for a family of four), 80 units at 60% of AMI ($51,540 for a family of four), 26 units at 80% of AMI ($68,720 for a family of four), 34 units at 100% of AMI ($85,900 for a family of four) and 40 units at 125% of AMI ($107,375 for a family of four).  Also, the City agreed to put $14 million in the budget to relocate all of the MTA vehicles, and an additional $9.5 million for the build out of the park itself, with the potential to allocate an additional $4 million to the park if the affordable units are more heavily subsidized by City housing programs.

Therefore, I had a choice to make.

If I voted yes, the community would see another 30- and 40-story development, but we would also get the MTA vehicles finally gone from 65 Commercial Street at cost of $14 million, a fully-funded park that the community has fought for many years at a cost of $9.5-13.5 million, and 200 units of truly affordable housing, at a cost of $8-12 million, that is desperately needed in our community where the rents are pricing out many long-time residents right now.  All told, the public benefit provided by the City and the developer would be $35 million.

If I voted no, we would still get two 15-story towers of housing at 77 Commercial Street. The developer could apply for a 421-a tax break, which would produce some 80%-125% AMI affordable housing units, but there would be no guarantee of that.  We would lose the $14 million in funding to relocate the MTA vehicles and 65 Commercial Street would either stay an MTA parking lot for many years to come or the City would sell the property to a developer to make as-of-right housing (either affordable or market-rate) equal to the number of units transferred to 77 Commercial Street through the sale of the “air rights,” in which case we would have exactly the same amount of development, just without the park.  Either way, there would be no foreseeable way to ever get a park at that location funded.

Although I knew that the decision would be unpopular, I decided that a new and long-fought for park and 200 units of very desperately needed affordable housing was worth the additional height that would be added to 77 Commercial Street’s already existing development rights.

In both Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial Street, I did not have the authority to decide whether or not large-scale residential development would happen.  Unfortunately, that train left the station over 8 years ago, long before I got to the City Council.  As a result of the 2005 rezoning, there can be approximately 28 towers built on the Greenpoint waterfront from Quay Street to Commercial Street.  Although I shudder at the thought, I could not stop that in the recent zoning actions.  What I could do was ensure that the community gets the parks, affordable housing, and a school that the Bloomberg Administration promised in 2005.  Voting against these zoning actions would have felt great, and it would have sent a strong message that the Greenpoint community and I have had it with over-development, but it would have been a pyrrhic victory.  The developments would still come, we just wouldn’t get the benefits we were promised.  And that’s why I voted to approve these zoning actions.

About Jen G

After living in NYC my entire life, I found the strongest sense of community in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Running this blog is truly an honor and the best part is meeting its readers in real life. Everyday I am energized by smiles and inspiring conversations with fellow Greenpointers who tirelessly do and create incredible things that are good for our community and share the same love I have for life here. If you see me walking with my little dog "D" - please say hi!

29 Comments

  1. Christina says:

    First of all as a representative for our community you should be representing the interests of the people who put you in office, not projecting what YOU personally think is best for the future of a neighborhood (that many of us will soon be displaced from). WE decided that we’d rather retain our community than gain a fancy park in the shadow of behemoth luxury towers. I will tell you that two 15 story towers IS MUCH BETTER than two 30-40 story towers. Any idiot could figure that out. Paint it as you like but we are not to benefit from this deal and your vote to approve of the sale of air rights and larger scale development of these sites is irresponsible. It makes me and others suspicious of your ties, as in your backing of the Domino Sugar property. You have no future in politics in our community.

    Reply
  2. E says:

    Seems like a reasonable explanation of the decisions that were on the table. What’s the counterargument, considering what was actually possible at this stage?

    Reply
    • Jen G says:

      My broad counter argument and general criticism is with the rezoning and excuse that it can’t be changed. If something was put into law then why can’t it be changed? The message that many Greenpointers seem to be disappointed with is the message, “It’s too late. Nothing can be done. The towers are going up no matter what.” I have been accused of giving false hope. But, I don’t see towers on the Greenpoint waterfront yet. That is the hope.

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  3. Peter says:

    1. It boggles my mind that it apparently costs $14 million to move vehicles off the MTA lot

    2. He makes an excellent point on one aspect of this regarding concerns for building a school near the plume sites: If we ever want to make that land safely usable for anything besides rusting Access-a-ride vans, we’ll need to address the pollutants under there. If this construction comes with a thorough and strictly-overseen remediation, that at least is a lasting benefit.

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    • marcy says:

      The toxic plume issue was being swept under the rub by everyone, Levin, included, UNTIL the awesome Save Greenpoint team put together a petition listing the toxins and brownfield risks (etc), got over 2500 local signatures, and sent it off to Cuomo to get some attention. Even now developers and their representatives have recently been quoted as saying, “What toxic plume?” and stating they were not aware of any risks. (Oh puhleese). Levin would not have even addressed the plume had it not been for the attention via the petition and via it being brought up at the meeting. And it STILL may be lipservice that there will be an analysis for safety and full remediation. Nowhere is this guaranteed from all I gather. Plus there are risks to all living near the plume if it’s dredged up (along with the leaking tanks), a HUGE undertaking; because the neighborhood (going on old data) is deemed industrial even though there are residential buildings all around it (with kids–many kids, I have a couple of ‘em myself), the toxic cleanup will not likely take into account the real live residents’ health and welfare as our apartments are on the map as being industries. Will withhold kudos here until such time as Levin actively sees through the process of full testing and safe remediation of the entire area.

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  4. Idealists' won says:

    I admire journalists who challenge the status quo. In fact, I’ve been a follower of independent media as suggested by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. However, the morality in politics is one in which you stand the heat in the kitchen and improve, in the possible, the fabric of your community or, simply put, nurse your wounds in the catacombs. Seemingly, the councilman took a perceivably understanding position that still put his constituents first.

    We elect leaders based on representative governance. Whether you agree or not, the implicit consent of generations has dictated as such. Let’s consider ourselves lucky that there is an open dialogue. Do you think John Adams saw democracy as sustainable? He thought democracies die and kill themselves. The majority can be as tyranical as the establishment of power and money. But in this case the councilman did what we elected him to do: to be a representative that could delegate for his constituents.

    It might be a hard but humbling and compromising reality: no system is perfect and those without the means of change are without the means of their preservation.

    I have no interest in political commentary as I treat it as a rather personal thing, but every so often I share.

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  5. Yiorgi says:

    Jen has it right- I am sick and tired of the constant refrain that the 2005 rezoning was a done deal, the law of the land etc. The councilman himself points out the injustice of that “law”. His argument that if he voted no, the towers would be built anyway does not make sense. If they will be built either way, why approve them? He lists the supposed compensatory benefits his compromise brings about, but he also points out how the initial 2005 promises made to the community have all been broken. Where’s the logic? His goal should have been to mobilize forces that could possibly prevent them from being built. This community successfully stopped a massive incinerator and TWO power plant projects that were all perfectly “legal” proposed developments. In this city, the exercise of power – whether it is “by right of law” or not- can only be stopped by mobilizing greater power. That is what would have been needed here… not hand-wringing and excuses.

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  6. Rob Weinert-Kendt says:

    As someone who was priced out of Greenpoint, a neighborhood I love, in 2012, I’m honestly confused why there’s so much reflexive opposition to an increase in density, which, even without the inclusion of affordable housing, is the only way to lower the price pressures that forced me and many other middle-class folks out of the hood. As long as we’ve got council members fighting, as Levin seems to be, for the attendant social service needs raised by higher density, this should be a win-win.

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    • Bess says:

      Mr. Rob Weinert-Kendt, I’m afraid it is your response that is reflexive. Higher density is appropriate in some areas, not others. The key is to develop a sensitive understanding of the lay of the land, socio-economic, environmental, infrastructural. Cities thrive when they are complex and balanced. As to being priced out of your sht hole shoe box, that has more to do with opportunistic landlords, supported by the Real Estate Board of NY’s lobbying to eliminate rent control and rent stabilization, tools that were set in place to help strike the fine balance needed.

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  7. marcy says:

    It boggles the mind that Stephen Levin, who convinced the entire rest of the city council to vote in favor of this abomination, has the gall to claim that he did us all a favor because it could have been worse without his (by his own estimation) significant efforts and accomplishments. Everything was not a fait accompli. This is beyond a sell out. Without the unanimous vote of the city council (courtesy of Levin) we stood a fighting chance of having the developments not be nearly as heinous. And who the heck needs this school anyway? They tore down the old one years ago as there are empty seats in the schools and nobody needed it. Now he calls this a perk (and on a toxic plume no less?!) And as to the affordable housing, sure if you make over a hundred grand (for a family) and win the lottery (literally as most in the lottery will not be locals). What a crock and what a bit of shameless self promotion.

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  8. Laura Hofmann says:

    As much as I hate the plans for our waterfront, I think the Councilman has painted a fair picture of what the facts really are. And given that I know the Councilman has been working hard behind the scenes to address the environmental implications of the development, I truly believe that he did his best to make the best decision he could given what he had to work with. Remember, there are many voices calling for large development as well, many of them local. Ugh! That being said, I do believe it’s possible to slow down this development dramatically. And who knows, maybe during that slowing we’ll find a legal loophole. But I think there has to be a dramatic increase in the number of voices calling for that. During the power plant fight, there were literally thousands of people fighting together from both Williamsburg and Greenpoint communities. And even then it was a tough fight. It was a lot of work. But we did win.

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    • Gina Santonas says:

      Great point. The slow down could work out in the neighborhood’s favor. Laws can always be changed. It happens all the time. But the people that can actually make that happen don’t REALLY want it changed. The politicians, builders, land lords etc are all making money from it.
      I too had to move out of Greenpoint, a neighborhood my family has lived in for over 100 years. But I am very proud of the people who have fought to keep it a small town in a big city. The old timers complain about the new people moving in but that is an age old issue. It used to be we complained about the Puerto Ricans and the Irish, then the new Polish and now the Hipsters.
      It really isn’t anyone’s “fault” except the greedy real estate people and the developers.
      The country but especially our city is ruining itself with the insane cost of housing. When 75% of our money goes into housing, not much is left to add to the economy.
      But thank you all for your good work of giving a voice to the little people in Greenpoint.

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    • Rolf Carle says:

      Dare I say the Power Plant fight, in many ways, paved the way to the current mess we are in. Lets not forget that the Developers, the City and even Con Ed were aligned with the “Community” for their interest’s which was about their profit. WE simply gave the fight the necessary Street Cred. I don’t see many things (except our friendship Laura) that we gained from the 10 year battle not even the promised park on the Bayside site which has since been reneged by the City. I’m sure any toxic emissions that we stopped will be off set by additional car traffic or even the cleaner burning buses brought on by the new developments. The one powerful thing we did achieve was the ability to organize and deploy the people through groups like the former NAG and GWAPP…these groups have literally changed their names since to represent the planning process and no longer represent a population that was indignant and willing to fight for their neighborhoods. It’s that passion that has been commandeered by clever politicians and it is those people who are now displaced. That is the feeling I get from reading the comments here to CM Levin’s 2613 word passionless justification.

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    • Teresa says:

      I agree, Laura, regarding our Councilman’s accurate relaying of how things unfolded. I think a lot of people were and still are confused about the 2005 rezoning (including community activism at the time) and what is possible now (including the level of community participation and activism now). It seems true that the rezoning cannot be undone via legal means like an Article 78; so be it. So – how about a new rezoning? Councilman Levin is entering a second term and has fully learned the ropes there. Also important: a bunch of self-described new progressive Council members are coming in who claim they want things to be significantly different from the Bloomberg/Quinn era. Certainly many New Yorkers who’ve lived through insane overdevelopment feel as we do and might support Steve’s rezoning efforts and encourage their Council reps to do the same. This isn’t just a Greenpoint issue. There’s a significant opportunity here like we haven’t seen in years. Our Councilman could make history and shake things up in 2014.

      Reply
  9. Teo says:

    Dear Mr. Littleball,

    Every day all around the world laws are adjusted, advanced, amended, changed, developed, modified, reversed,
    revised, shifted, switched, transformed, disputed, repelled, rebutted, rejected, refused, altered, beat off, put down, beat back, brushed off, knock down, push back, turn down, etc, etc, etc, etc.
    You know that, and we know that.
    Your argument is nothing but a fallacy to save face.

    Your message, as you call it, is sorry ass excuse not to face the truth, which shows how green you are as a politician. If you have what you have to have, you’d enjoy the holidays with your family instead of spending it plotting devices so that you can sleep at night. Summing up, we think that you are sell out with balls the size of peas.

    Soon, you’ll be far away from Greenpoint, no doubt elevated to higher post by the friends you have made recently. You won’t have to deal with us anymore, and you’ll forget yourself in our name -no doubt this is the purpose of your long-winded pretext.

    Fortunately, we are not the stupid herd you think we are. You can roll your makeshift vindication along with your self proclaimed victories and stick them all the way up where the Sun won’t shine them.

    We will not forget you, you fuc_ing liar.

    Sincerely,

    I

    Reply
  10. Vivian Darkbloom says:

    There are few problems with this pretty picture. I was there in 2005 at the now historic meeting where Amanda Burden presented the development plan. At the time the plan called for 22 towers to be built down kent and west st from s5 to eagle st. There was no plan at the time to build any further north. It is absolutely a lie that greenpoint landing has been in the works since then. Greenpoint landing was conceived and pushed through and fast tracked sometime in the last three years after the city had given landmark status to the boardwalk empire film set at 38 commercial. 2, there were several million dollars set aside for a public park at 65 commercial years and years ago. That money “disappeared” and now the city magically needs to sell “air rights” to build the park. That park was promised as one of the conciliatory offerings when the first plan, which I along with many other from the neighborhood opposed. Once the dust settled and time went by, the city reneged on the park, lost the money for it and then copied the scenario back in 2005 by framing the debate in the context of public space vs “affordable housing.” In actuality those so called affordable units that were promised the first time around never made it into the finished buildings. Funny eh? You have been confronted with a mountain of evidence to the contrary and sold this neighborhood to predatory slumlords who whispered sweet nothings in your ear. In 50 years when this part of greenpoint is an uninhabitable mess, not many may remember the part that Stephen “I’m the good guy” Levin played in making that happen. But you did. And you lied to all of us when you said you were fighting for us and representing us. It’s gonna be on your record forever, and all of us old residents plus 10,000 new ones will curse your name as they go to sleep every night as you toss and turn on whatever space station you’ve escaped to. Idiot.

    Reply
    • Teresa says:

      It has been known since the power plant fight, which preceded the rezoning, that George Klein intended to build a large-scale residential development at Greenpoint Landing. Many community activists had seen the plans and even the scale models. Perhaps the reason the project didn’t come up as much was because a lot of the affordable housing dialogue seemed to focus on Northside and South Williamsburg? (That’s just a guess from my recollections; it’s a long time ago now.) If you take a look at the Greenpoint 197a plan, you’ll see that Greenpoint allowed for higher density in its waterfront development plan than Williamsburg did.

      I’m only commenting on this because I believe it’s imperative that we as a community get our facts straight. If we decide to act as individuals or more formally in groups, all we have is the truth. We can only be effective if we know what we’re working with. Politicians mince words and do their thing as spin doctors; we need to know what’s what before we step in the ring.

      Reply
  11. Darren says:

    Stephen,
    RE: 77 Commercial St. ULRUP. Open space (a park), “affordable housing” in exchange for a larger building, 15 vs 40 stories.

    The community weighed in how they felt about these buildings at the GPL community board meeting. The room was filled, the outrage was fierce and you were absent. Not one person said the park was more important to them then not having the buildings at all. Some did say they were concerned about affordable housing but the one clear theme was the community did not want these buildings. Weather the community understood the ULRUP actions or not it was up to you to interpret that the community wanted 77 to stay 15 stories; thus it was up to you to find a way to make that happen.

    You say you did not have a choice and that the only way to get affordable housing and Box St park was to approve 77. We don’t believe this, and this is the reason why the community believes that you are either in bed with the developers or just a poor negotiator who was bamboozled by the city and the developers, I will let the reader make the decision.

    BOX St Park,
    I want to show why we would have gotten the park without 77s up vote.
    You say the city would not have given the money to move the MTA or build the park unless you voted yes on 77. The city was bluffing, this up-zoing was Bloomberg’s baby and of course the city is going to feed you a line to force you to vote yes; so no we would not have lost the park. It may have taken longer but we would have gotten it. No, I don’t believe any politician would risk selling 65 Commercial to developers as that would be political suicide. Since MTA is already in the works to move,the vacant lot would have become a park – no doubt in my mind and no reason here for the up vote.
    You needed to look at the facts, the MTA already has an alternative site in the works. This was known as I read your press release. The city had funded the park and then pulled the money for the park. Why did they do this, the recession is over so why not put the money back? The reason was to force you into voting yes. It is was easy to see that the real intention of the city was to build the park. Even if you voted no on 77 and Bloomberg had pulled the park money, it would not matter as in two weeks his administration would be out of office; did you even talk to DeBlasio about the park?

    OK, let’s say you were right that we would not have gotten the park without the money. GPL is a 1.5 -2 billion dollar project and also has a building next to Box St. park. $10 million is only a .5% additional cost to their project. You should have had no problem twisting GPL’s arm to get .5% more for the community. This would have solved the park money issue. What a shit deal 8 million for the park is when if was worth 12 million in 2005. You knew it was a shit deal and you should have said no and started work on GPL.

    I hope you understand that with the increased number of people we will have less parkland per person then before these actions. And with this decrease we must accommodate as many people as possible to our limited parkland. That means we need a passive park at Box St. Everyone will be able to use a passive park, not just the sport teams. There are already many sports fields in the GP/Williamsburg area and almost no area to fly a kite or throw a frisbee…sorry athletic teams, but people can’t do activities like that on a narrow esplanade.

    AFFORDABLE HOUSING 77
    I am going to show why the affordable housing was a bad deal.
    10 units 40% AMI ($34k income family of 4 or 24k Individual)
    10 units 50% AMI ($43k income family of 4 or 30k Individual)
    80 units 60% AMI ($52k income family of 4 or36k Individual)
    26 units 80% AMI ($69k income family of 4 or 48k Individual)
    34 units 100% AMI ($85k income family of 4 or 60k Individual)
    40 units 125% AMI ($107k income family of 4 or 75k Individual)

    My disclaimer: This is a very dense issue and I may not be 100% accurate, but this is a general breakdown of just how few lower income units will really be available.

    Let examine this and see what the Greenpoint community is really getting. I am assuming that 50% of the units are reserved for Greenpointers – this would be the maximum. This cuts the number affordable units in half from 200 to 100 available to Greenpoint residents. The rest of the units go to anyone that qualifies in all five boroughs including, I believe, illegal immigrants.

    As there is no chart of size of the units available I am going to assume everything is a studio. I hope this is not the case. Based on the idea that only one person would live in the studio and that studio costs at market rate$1500 in GP. That 18k in annual rent would equal 54k income at 30% rent to income ratio. That mean there is no benefit at the 100% AMI and 125% AMI it would be the same for that individual as finding a market rate apartments. Removing 34 (100% AMI) units and 40 (125% AMI) units is 74 units, half that goes to outsiders, we are now left with 100 units – 37 units or just 63 units of benefit to the community.

    The owners of 77 are documented slum lords. I am sure you know the horror stories of dripping ceilings with mold and mushrooms growing from the dry wall that this slum lord will not fix in their buildings. If you really cared about your voters you would have voted no so they would not have to live through this nightmare too. It is hard for me to see how you are not in bed with the developers with these facts.

    It was pretty transparent that 77s AMI levels were set artificially high as a negotiation tactic. Every step of the way during ULURP they were asked to lower the AMIs but refused, only saying that they would take it into consideration. They did not even yield at the public city council meeting, but waited to the last closed door meeting to move them to match the points of agreement level. You were unable to get anything out the deal that was not there in the first place.

    GPL
    The way I understand it, we may loose the school if we are not able to clean up the Nuhart site. You could have preserved the school if you forced GPL to build it into the lower level of one of their towers. If we lose the school this will be a huge loss for the community and you will have really let us down. How big of a win it was for GPL to build an “affordable housing” building segregating the GP “poor” from the desirable water front property?! Now they can get bigger rents for their “free from poor people” housing.

    The industrial business zone, IBZ, or as you call it industrial retention zone, is a joke, and I hope you will work to fix this. The Box House Hotel which is an allowed use, provides little in the way of skilled jobs. Yes the BRC homeless shelter dose provide better jobs but it does not preserve GP’s waning skilled manufacturing jobs. At some point all of our IBZ will be hotels and brew pubs if we allow this to continue.

    You made your bed, but in this case you do not need to lie in it. I hope moving forward that you work with the community to halt construction of these projects until we have the local superfund sites cleaned up safely, have a transportation plan in place and infrastructure issues worked out.

    Reply
  12. Phyllis Yampolsky says:

    GREENPOINT LANDING IS INSANE…MANY ARE THE INSTANCES IN WHICH LEADERS OF POWERFUL INTELLIGENCE AND CONVICTION CAN UNDO POLICIES AND PROJECTS THAT ARE , FROM EVERY PERSPECTIVE EXCEPT OLD SYSTEMS’ PROFIT -ABOVE-ALL-MOTIVATION… W R O N G
    IS STEVE LEVIN GOING TO GROW UP AND BECOME A GENUINE LEADER OF THE PEOPLE, OR CONTINUE TO WEAVE AND WAVER TO
    POLITICAL POSITIONING MERELY EYEING WHAT HE THINKS IS HIS POLITICAL FUTURE? ? ? ?

    Reply
  13. Bess says:

    The reason to have voted ‘no’ on these two projects would have been to set a precedent to demand a downzone of Greenpoint’s waterfront, as its infrastructural logistics are very different from those of Williamsburg and should not have had to bare the burden of such a massive upzone. Downzoning is not an impossibility in NYC and does not require that an Article 78 be filed for it to take place, as some would like you to believe (just google it). The 2005 rezoning of the Greenpoint waterfront was bogus for many reasons, such as it was justified by an Environmental Impact Statement which gravely underestimated the adverse impacts upon the existing neighborhood. One of several 2005 Rezoning details to take issue with is the tax block on which the school and separate, impermanent affordable housing (yes that’s right, once these units are vacated they will become market rate) are being proposed was misdesignated. Lots 1, 6 & 26 on Block 2492 should not have been rezoned to R-8, as it breaks the planned pattern and explains GpL’s no bid. Even R-6 is grossly inappropriate, though at least it would have been consistent with the rest of the rezone. Unfortunately these details do not seem to concern Mr. Levin, as he has proven to be not versed in the EIS of his own district, rather very well versed in developer, land owner courtships. Also sad to say the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, now resident of a plush Long Island suburb, was originally from Greenpoint and so perhaps we should face up to the facts that we are sitting ducks for big development, as is proven by the anti-harassment map which pretty much anticipates the bulk of neighborhood to be leveled (refer map on page 17, of this link, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/cpc/060170.pdf). Perhaps there is reason for the anticipated future erasure of Greenpoint, this though has not yet been brought to the table for discussion. Something to do with toxicity and the diminishing need for an American working class, both of which could be addressed in a downzone, for both Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

    Question, if the reason for the disappearance of the park’s funding had to do with the 2007 recession, is it not reasonable to acknowledge the year now is 2013 and that money should be reallocated?

    Reply
  14. skate says:

    So let’s rezone again under a different mayor.

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  15. christina says:

    I say Levin gives the 2M of our $ he gave to Lopez for his “picnic” for seniors back towards building the park.

    Reply
  16. bryan says:

    why does the greenpoint councilman have a NJ area code? does he even live here? and secondly, i call BS on the zoning laws being hard on the books and unchangeable. Laws are constantly changed in this country on a daily basis, how is this any different?

    Reply
  17. Bess says:

    Harte’s late night poisonous ranks of several years ago aside… I wonder if the plume has erroded the sewage drains by Eagle Street and/or the connect to the sludge tank, hence the stink. ??

    Reply
  18. Monica says:

    So many awesome posters above with great concrete facts. Proving why the whole raping of Greenpoint is nothing short of criminal. And Mr. Levin’s hot air has nothing to hold on to, it just has a rotten stench. I was one of the thousands who signed the petition. I’m commenting now, just to say “World, we’re out here, and we’re not happy with Levin’s hoodwinking. ” And these toxicity issues are very real and truly scary. Almost as gross as Levin’s selling out of Greenpoint, is his self congratulatory stance, his smug vanity. Let’s start a recommended listening mix tape for him- (feel free to add)
    1. How do you sleep
    2. You’re so vain
    3. Positively 4th Street
    4. Sympathy for the Devil
    5. Mean Mr. Mustard
    6. Heart of the Devil
    7. The Traitor Song
    8. Money
    9. Red Right Hand
    10. Big Yellow Taxi

    Reply
  19. Rosemary Lee says:

    Have returned home from overseas to this news…SIGH and so predictable. I could tell that Levin was paying us all lip service from the very first meeting when he was outside chewing gum and nodding at people and making token carefully worded speeches to the mob…and while Pierson does appear to have gone to ground in his vocal opposition of these developments, i think he offered us the only real hope since that was his platform for election…too late now and for me this decision dictates that I will move. I don’t want to live beside a toxic site that is going to be ploughed up for a decade… But that doesn’t meant I won’t be asking every contact I know to follow and study the health of residents during this development process. Possibly the largest scale modern day HUMAN urban experiment with brownfield sites surrounded by high residential occupancy… And Levin and his developer cronies will have to live with themselves and the consequences of their decisions if this proves to endanger the lives and
    health of our community. It was brought to their attention in no uncertain terms so there can be no excuses.

    Reply
  20. Markus Foyer says:

    It is interesting to see how some of the comments below claim that they “are” the community, and that the community is undivided on these issues. I did not attend any of these meeting, but I think that doesn’t mean that my opinion shouldn’t count or that I am not part of the “community”.

    In contrast to what has been stated by others as the community’s unanimous preference, I would very much take a park for higher towers (or one higher tower). In general, I am not opposed to this development, but the one thing that bothers me is the obsession with “affordable housing.” I don’t think some lucky few who will get to live in these units should be subsidized by everybody else in the area. “Subsidize”, because according to the laws of supply and demand, reducing the number of available market units (by making some “affordable”) drives up the price (or rent) of the available market units.

    Reply

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