You can bring a “gigantic sandwich” to Greenpointers but you can’t force them to eat it.
Once again last night, local residents dragged themselves to a Community Board 1 meeting, this time to speak their mind about the waterfront complex known as 77 Commercial Street.
Already, the developer has full approval to build nearly 300 market-rate apartments in a 15-story tower, but nearly 500 more requested units (200 of which would be designated affordable housing) require zoning changes that must be approved by the city. If pushed through, the developers of 77 Commercial Street would also fund the transformation of an adjacent MTA lot into a public park.
The gathering was a continuation of last week’s public session that addressed the expansion of nearby Greenpoint Landing, which would add nearly 700 units to planned residential towers and allow the city to build a 640-seat public school.
Compared to that meeting, disruptions were limited last night and the crowd was thinned; but residents and elected officials were plenty vocal as they insisted the city didn’t follow through quickly enough on zoning changes made in 2005 in order to expand North Brooklyn’s waterfront access and public housing, and instead let private developers highjack waterfront development.
State Assemblyman and Greenpoint lifer Joseph Lentol led the charge. “The fact of the matter is the city didn’t move fast enough,” and waterfront property became prohibitively expensive for a city budget, he said. “I don’t like the idea of developers paying for an idea that the city had in 2005.”
Architects for 77 Commercial Street revealed that all affordable housing units were slated for the complex’s six-story high base, while market-rate apartments would be located in the 30- to 40-story towers with views of the East River and Manhattan.
“Segregation!” an audience member shouted; loud boos followed.
“It’s unacceptable to have separate and unequal housing,” said City Councilman and Greenpoint resident Stephen Levin, who added that the designated affordable housing was too expensive to begin with. “Only 36% of [designated units] is at 80% of [annual median income] or lower,” said Levin. “What is really needed is housing for seniors on fixed income and an income of no more than 60% of AMI.”
An attorney representing 77 Commercial Street guessed that developers chose rent levels and separated affordable and market rate units for “economic reasons,” which the crowd responded to with audible snickers.
Richard Mazur, head of North Brooklyn Development Corporation, clarified further what true affordability meant for residents of Greenpoint. “Our families in the neighborhood are between $30,000 and $40,000, so none of these units are affordable,” said Mazur, referring to apartment rates based on an annual median income of well over $50,000.
“We’re using what the city requires for different programs,” said Jay Segal, an attorney for 77 Commercial Street. “We spent a lot of time and money [setting rents] and we’re not going to spend a lot more time talking to groups.”
“Oh, you’re threatening us? You’re threatening us?” an audience member yelled in response.
As for the development of Box Street Park, Councilman Levin blamed the city for under-allocating funds: the city’s current budget calls for $1 million to pay for the park; if zoning changes are pushed through, the city will sell an adjacent MTA lot to developers for $8 million, which they would use to develop the park.
“There was capital funding in the city’s budget — at one point in time around $14 million,” that was intended for park development, said Levin. But around five years ago, he said, city budget cuts slashed Box Street cash to $1 million. “Can someone speak to that?” asked Levin. “Now we have to take the developer’s money, and we’re stuck in the middle.”
Beyond park funding and additional housing development, residents were abundantly concerned about Greenpoint’s lack of infrastructure to accommodate the population bulge.
“Comments and concerns that come up all of the time are not only hospitals, but fire houses, police and transportation needs,” said Del Teague, chair of Community Board 1’s ULURP committee. “We know the population is exploding here. How is it that we don’t have additional services? Can we get a commitment from the city to sit and discuss these needs with us?”
Other complaints were more basic still: “I don’t see anything that’s really beautiful in terms of design,” said Greenpoint resident Kaitie Naplatarski. “It’s about status quo and about what’s legal. The city is greatly to blame for not setting the bar higher. I think it’s a shame that we get affordable housing and parks only because we get more people and towers. I don’t think it’s right.”
“I would like as few units as possible on this site.” said Allison McGuffin, a resident of Greenpoint. “I love the neighborhood, I love the number of people that are here. I moved here because there are fewer people and I think I’m not alone in simply wanting to limit development in Greenpoint.”
Next Tuesday, Community Board 1’s Land Use committee will meet to discuss any modifications to the developer’s requested changes. A final recommendation will be made by the full board on September 9.