This week’s CB1 ULURP hearing focused on the development at 77 Commercial St. which is just up Newton Creek from the Greenpoint Landing project that we covered last week. 77 Commercial street is currently a vacant commercial building that was purchased in 2012 by Manhattan-based developers, Chetrit Group. What makes this development notable is that it sits next to the long promised, but never delivered Box Street Park at 65 Commercial Street.
65 Commercial Street is currently home to a parking lot that houses MTA vehicles and small buses. As part of the 2005 rezoning, the City promised to turn the parking lot into a park for the community and set aside $14 million in the budget to do so. But, 8 years and a recession has passed and we still don’t have a park. This is due, in part, to the fact that the $14 million budget was drastically reduced to $1 million through budget cuts during the recession. Additionally, the MTA has yet to find a suitable relocation site for their parking lot. In an effort to generate new funds to build the park, the city offered the air rights (AKA development rights) over the park for sale through a public RFP process.
Except under certain circumstances, the only properties that can purchase air rights are the ones actually touching the property offering the air rights for sale. In the case of 65 Commercial (future Box St. park), those two properties are 77 Commercial St and a vacant piece of land owned by The Park Tower Group, which will be part of Greenpoint Landing. Park Tower Group did not respond to the offering, which left 77 Commercial St. as the only buyer. The Chetrit Group (owners of 77 Commercial) are in contract to buy the 304,000 square feet of air rights for $8.2 million.
In October of last year, I spoke with Robert Knakal of Massey Knakal Realty who estimated the value of these air rights at as much as $14 million. One must ask how only having one interested buyer out of two possible buyers represents a reasonable fair market transaction. Was City Hall not willing or able to negotiate a better deal on behalf of Greenpoint?
This catches us up to Tuesday’s ULURP hearing which focused on the details of this sale of air rights between the City and 77 Commercial Street. Below is a chart, courtesy of GWAPP.org, outlining what can be built at 77 Commercial and what the development will be after the purchase of the air rights over the park.
It is important to note that the air rights come with a requirement to build 200 affordable units. As it stands now, the development is not required to build any affordable units. As you can see from the chart, the development will double in size and, perhaps more importantly, grow to over double the original height. The increase in height is of particular interest to the developers because the views get much better with each additional floor, and those great views of Manhattan translate into a much higher overall value.
Tuesday’s ULURP hearing brought out Greenpointers that were engaged, informed and largely upset, but the tone of the discussion was actually quite civil. Also in attendance were Councilman, Levin and State Assemblyman, Joe Lentol, both of whom spoke on behalf of the community and roundly criticized the city’s lack of planning and follow-through . Over 20 members of the community waited in line to speak–their concerns ranged from affordable housing to infrastructure. Nearly everyone voiced their frustration with the empty promises made by the city as part of the 2005 re-zoning.
When will the MTA parking lot actually be relocated, clearing the way for the park? How can the G train possibly handle all of these new residents? Will this new development create permanent jobs for the community? Will the affordable housing units have a separate entrance from the market-rate units?
All of these questions were asked by the community on Tuesday night and none of them were answered in a substantive way.
As with the Greenpoint Landing hearing, the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks (GWAPP) and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) put forth several recommendations for CB1’s consideration. I encourage you read their proposals.
And, as always, if you want to make your voice heard, contact:
Community Board No. 1, Brooklyn:
Councilman Stephen Levin:
State Assemblyman Joe Lentol