“A Giant Sandwich is Landing on Greenpoint” – Notes on Greenpoint Landing & 77 Commercial St ULURP Meeting

Melanie Myers Land Use Attorney for Greenpoint Landing Associates

On Thursday June, 27th, 2013 GWAPP and NAGG organized a public meeting in response to the public meeting at McCarren Park that took place on May 5th, in which residents were shocked and offended by presentations made by representatives of Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial St and unclear on the ULURP process.

Dewey Thompson of GWAPP began the meeting last Thursday by explaining that we were not there to discuss the 2005 Rezoning of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg Waterfront, which allows for the building of 30-40 story towers on the waterfront at the soon to be Greenpoint Landing – an “enormous development,” that will “change the landscape in every way.”

Despite this, concerns about the 2005 rezoning where on the minds of residents.

Instead the meeting was to discuss what is “as of right,” meaning what can be built based on the current zoning and how we can articulate what we want in the ULURP process as a “coherent voice,” with respect to the 77 Commercial St and Greenpoint Landing projects.

Currently both projects are in the “pre-ULURP” phase. The first public hearing held by Community Board 1 will be on August 13th, 2013 at 6:30pm at Automotive HS (50 Bedford Ave).

The Center for Urban Pedagogy, an organization that makes educational tools that “demystify complex policy and planning issues,” led the reluctant audience of about 50 members of the community in a role playing game to outline what the ULURP process is, how it works and who the major players are in the decision making process.

While it took some teeth pulling, the game, which used a sandwich as a metaphor for the proposed developments, was helpful and fun.

Jon Pywell (Mayor) & Ryan Watson (Borough President)

ULURP, which stands for Uniform Land Use Review Procedure,  is “a standardized procedure whereby applications affecting the land use of the city would be publicly reviewed.  The Charter also established mandated time frames within which application review must take place.”

Basically it makes the process predictable for the developer. The time that each party can review the project is controlled so no one can hold up the process in order to prevent the proposed development.

The metaphorical sandwich proposed was a Pastrami Double Decker with Cream Cheese, Butter, Bacon and Bleu Cheese.

What the game showed is that at this point the community can only negotiate for the details of the sandwich, like should it to be a double decker, with or without cheese or as one community member requested “kosher?”

At the end of the game, the message was that while the community has three public hearings in order to negotiate the details of the sandwich, once the ball is rolling, it really is in the hands of the Mayor. All the other “players” like the City Planning Commission, who “really make the decision” ultimately report to the Mayor who is the last to review the proposal. The majority of projects that go into the ULURP process get approved with some modifications. A final cynical but realistic note was the question to the audience: “who funds the mayoral race?” Developers, of course!

Rami Metal, representing Council Member Stephen Levin reminded the community that when the original rezoning in 2005 happened the community negotiated that the waterfront would not have power plants and that the compromise is these 30-40 story towers.

Rami went on to say that “a giant sandwich is landing on Greenpoint.”

The question is – what can the community get out of the sandwich with respect to infrastructure, transportation, affordable housing and open space?

Greenpoint Landing Approvals Table

In the case of Greenpoint Landing the proposal to be reviewed includes a public school, additional affordable housing (431 units) and waterfront access via Newtown Barge Park, with $2.5 million in funding volunteered by Greenpoint Landing and $4.5 million funded by the city.

The table above shows what is “as of right” – what will happen, whether or not the proposal is approved, and what the community “gets” if it is approved.

Melanie Myers the attorney representing Greenpoint Landing, who at the previous meeting insulted residents by saying, “we’re creating a neighborhood on the waterfront,” added this time around that the affordable housing, which will be 7 stories and essentially segregated from the high rises will be of a “fabric reminiscent of the Greenpoint area.”

Greenpoint Landing Diagram

What was a bit confusing was the “trade off of property” between the city and the Greenpoint Landing Associates. Inland property for a public school near “sludge tanks” and property for affordable housing will be traded by Greenpoint Landing in exchange for waterfront property from the City. Greenpoint Landing will also build the affordable housing that was previously promised and never built by the City.

Questions from the community included whether the area code will change in terms of placement of students in the new school and how the affordable housing will be determined. Will locals be given first dibs? The biggest question was about infrastructure, transportation, sewage and public services like NYPD and FDNY.

Other homeowners brought up concerns about increase in property taxes which will cause an increase in rents and loss of already existing affordable housing.

Another slightly confusing matter was the range of incomes for the affordable housing in terms of AMI, average median income, which will range from 40% to 120%. This means that a family of 4 at $72,000/year is average AMI and a family of 4 at $35,000 is 40% AMI. So 50% of the affordable housing will be given to families of 40-60% AMI and the rest to 80-120% AMI.

77 Commercial St Approvals Table

The sandwich at 77 Commercial St is more straightforward. It means that, “developers of this site will be paying the City $8 million for the air rights to 65 Commercial St. so that they can build higher on the 77 Commercial St. site. They will also be building 200 units (source) of affordable housing at the site,” according to GWAPP’s website. 65 Commercial St, which is an MTA site now will be the future of Box St Park AKA Commercial St Park if the proposal is approved.

Does the community want a park in exchange for a building that is 30-40 stories? If the developers are not granted the air rights, then the $8million for Box St Park and 200 additional affordable units will not be granted to the community.

A community member brought up the fact that some of this land is contaminated and that the community is still waiting for other promises of parks like Bushwick Inlet.

While it was stated very clearly that the purpose of the meeting was NOT to discuss rewriting the zoning, it kept coming up. One community member compared the new developments to “imitation Dubai,” “Miami Beach” then even worse – “Williamsburg” and “LIC.”

77 Commercial St

Another asked whether it’s a “pie in the sky naive question” to ask whether the area can be “rezoned back?” which NAGG’s Ward Dennis said it is, and that the rezoning added a lot of value to the property so there will be a lot of resistance to changing the zoning back.

“There is a fight there,” added Dewey Thomas of GWAPP, “but not at this meeting.”

Lincoln Restler responded that the community needs to hold our Mayoral candidates to the fire in order to get a “downzoning” of the waterfront, followed by a loud applause.

He later added on Facebook that “there should be no negotiation on 4000 unit Greenpoint Landing. We must downzone the waterfront and stop this reckless development.”

While the meeting was very informative, the takeaway essentially was Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial St are happening, so what can the community get out of developments if anything?

Still, many attendees were looking for hope to downzone the area from the 2005 rezoning, especially in terms of the height of the buildings. They want to FIGHT THE TOWER!

Regardless of what the 2005 rezoning allows, the idea of 30-40 story towers on the Greenpoint Waterfront is something that many residents find threatening on many levels and unfathomable with respect to the current landscape. The idea that nothing can be done at this point is not an acceptable answer.

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!

16 Comments

  1. Ryan W. says:

    Jen, thanks for this thorough recap on the meeting from last week. We hope that people left with a little more information about ULURP, the proposed development projects and what is coming down the pike in the coming months.

    To clarify, we at GWAPP are not opposed to tackling another rezoning. On the contrary, we think that there is a fight to be had but it is a long-term fight that will take place over years.

    In the current moment what we need to understand as a community is that THESE DEVELOPMENTS ARE HAPPENING. Regardless of how much residents, myself included, don’t want 40-story buildings on the waterfront, the 2005 rezoning permits developers to do so. The community meeting on August 13th will trigger the ULURP and there is no chance of rezoning before then. If we direct our energy to fighting the 2005 rezoning and don’t engage in the ULURP, we will miss out on any chance to impact the existing development plans to benefit the community.

    Moving forward we can certainly put our efforts into addressing a new rezoning proposal in the long-term, but for now our attention should be focused on making these developments as beneficial to the community as possible.

    Reply
  2. mike says:

    thanks for the recap!

    Reply
  3. teresa says:

    I’m not sure Rami’s comment as noted here is accurate. The waterfront was always going to be zoned down from heavy industrial, so a power plant would not have been a proper land use after the 2005 rezoning. I don’t think that was ever a point of negotiation or conflict during the community’s years-long dialogue with City Planning.

    Reply
    • teresa says:

      Also, ULURP = Uniform Land Use Review Process, not Universal (URP).

      Reply
    • Jen G says:

      Thanks Teresa. It’s not meant to come across as an “either/or.” Sorry for the confusion. Rami brought it up in a way to remind the community that is a better option for the waterfront than the power plants, which was mentioned many times during the meeting.
      “we fought the power plants”

      Reply
      • PatC says:

        Thanks for article, Jen.
        Sounds like Lincoln is talking the most sense. Politicians can change ANYTHING they want at ANYTIME!! Need to go after politicians who will still be in office once Bloom splits.
        Hard to tell what GWAPP’s position really is on the development of the waterfront . . .
        If the waterfront was rezoned from heavy industrial use, it certainly can be zoned down, now, to preserve the waterfront!
        Greenpoint could have a gem of a waterfront, if it is preserved, and is SANDWICHED between the jungles of LIC and Williamsburg!! Imagine that!!!

        Reply
      • teresa says:

        Thanks for clarifying Jen, I appreciate it!

        Reply

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