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Rheingold Brewery Rezoning: City Planning Commission Shocked by the Lack of Community Involvement

At around noon yesterday, the City Planning Commission of NYC met to discuss a wide-range of city projects, including the rezoning of Rheingold Brewery in Bushwick

Photo by Wesley Salazar for Bushwick Daily

At around noon yesterday, the City Planning Commission of NYC met to discuss a wide-range of city projects, including the rezoning of Rheingold Brewery in Bushwick. The City Planning Commission heard arguments for and against the massive rezoning project that would allow for the construction of 7 and 8-story apartment buildings containing 977 dwelling units over the span of approximately four years. The Commission seemed genuinely surprised by what they heard from Bushwick residents in attendance...

In August, we reported that Community Board 4 (CB4) had held a very important meeting - behind closed doors - in which they voted on the proposal to rezone sections of the site from M-1 and M-3 to R-6 and M-1, respectively. We were baffled that our Community Board chose to hold the vote in a private session and were shocked to find that CB4 voted to approve the rezoning proposed by Forrest Lots LLC, a division of Read Property Group LLC, with a staggering vote of 29 to 3.

First up to speak yesterday was proponent Mitchell Korbey of Herrick, Feinstein LLP, who emphasized that the site is currently "largely vacant, underutilized" and that the rezoning is far from unusual, that it's a "rezoning that's predictable." He pointed out that 24% of the dwelling units would be affordable housing, a portion of which would be inclusionary housing (units that must remain permanently affordable), and there would be publicly accessible open spaces. Commissioner Michelle de la Uz asked Korbey if the already crowded schools in the area might be affected by an influx of students. Korbey replied yes, eventually, but conversations are underway about how to address the estimated 75 new students the residential buildings would bring to the area.

Several more proponents of the rezoning plan were scheduled to offer answers to any questions the City Planning Commission might have, but the Commission seemed satisfied with Korbey's broad outline of the project.

Rendering of a proposed apartment development (photo by courtesy of Meredith Hoffman of DNAinfo)

Next to speak was the first opponent of the rezoning project, a representative from the 32BJ Services Employee Inernational Union. She got the ball rolling by telling the Commission that "Read Properties would benefit greatly from the opportunity to develop nearly 1000 units, a portion of which would be affordable, at this iconic site but the community should take the opportunity now to ensure that this project...creates good jobs for the area." When asked if the union had been in touch with the developers regarding their concerns, the representative said yes, but scheduling has proven very difficult in the summer and the union hopes that a meeting can be arranged.

Brigette Blood, a Bushwick resident of over ten years, then took the podium and raised the issue of the miscommunication between Bushwick residents and proponents of the project. She passionately stated, "We ask you to disapprove this development. I do not feel heard nor represented, nor do I hear the voices of my neighbors in regards to the major rezoning proposal underway in our neighborhood." She referenced CB4's violation of Open Meeting Laws and the general lack of public involvement in this neighborhood-altering discussion. "There has been no known effort by Rheingold, and very limited effort by [Council Member Diana] Reyna, to inform and involve Bushwick in her own future," said Blood.

"We want to be part of this process. We want to be a part of this process of progress and for it to be a healthy and just future for Bushwick...Any change in our landscape and our community must be for the benefit of Bushwick first." A flurry of applause from the audience followed her speech.

The Commissioners had many questions about Blood's statements, asking her more about the CB4 vote timeline. They seemed genuinely surprised that the vote had taken place separately - and, more importantly, privately - from the public hearing. They also asked what her specific concerns are - scale, affordability, etc. She said all of it was a concern and pointed to Read Properties' renderings of the shiny, massive buildings, saying loud and clear, "This doesn't look like Bushwick. This doesn't look like any Bushwick I've ever seen...And wedging a sliver of park between two 8-story residential buildings does not seem like public space in my opinion."

Commission Chair Amanda Burden mentioned that Borough President Marty Markowitz had his own public hearing with the community, after which he also recommended approval of the project. Blood countered that she had never heard of this so it must have taken place before the September 3rd meeting, before most Bushwick residents were ever notified about the rezoning project. Someone from behind the Commissioners' seats said that the public hearing was on July 1st, indeed before the CB4 vote.

Several more Bushwick residents followed Blood with equal enthusiasm - from homeowners worried that the development could lead to major trash disposal on Renaissance Court, to a business owner concerned that the spaces he currently uses on the site would be replaced by residential buildings with "lite retail storefronts which only offer low income jobs with no future mobility." Every speaker was most outraged by the lack of communication between the developers, Community Board 4, and the Bushwick community.

Discussion of the Rheingold Brewery rezoning continued for about an hour. But perhaps the most poignant comment of the day came by way of Commissioner Anna Levin, who thanked the Bushwick residents for coming and advised: "There is strength in numbers. As you follow this through the process, the more you can get your neighbors together and organized, the group will be more effective than an individual."

The record will remain open for ten days, during which time City Planning Commission will be open to comments. It's time to get organized.

Bushwick residents have until September 23rd to record their concerns to the Commission before they vote. You can send your comments via email to Yvette Gruel at the Planning Commission Office at ygruelATplanning.nyc.gov, or contact City Planner Ralph Blessing via email at rblessiATplanning.nyc.gov or call him at (212) 720-3375.

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