Zoning is the nearly-invisible practice that determines where a neighborhood’s commercial areas are, how tall its buildings can be, and the shape and appearance of whole city blocks in general. Sometimes zoning needs change over time, and while community members and policymakers get organized, developers swoop in and take advantage of the existing rules already on the books.
That, in a nutshell, is what’s happening in Bushwick with large-scale developments like the Rheingold Brewery site and the high-rise going up near Maria Hernandez Park continue popping up at a rapid pace without anyone taking a second look at what increased population density and rising rents will do to the character of the neighborhood.
This year, as Bedford and Bowery reports, Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal were planning on submitting what they’ve dubbed a “Bushwick Community Plan” to City Council for consideration. It’s a broad effort to involve community members in compiling an effective plan to preserve affordable housing and historical buildings, while allowing for some larger-scale developments along major corridors.
Reynoso, whose district includes part of Bushwick, participated in an interview with City Limits this week about the current progress when it comes to rezoning and Bushwick. In the interview, he admitted that an opportunity to revisit Bushwick’s rezoning won’t happen formally until 2018.
Reynoso told City Limits in the 20-minute interview that 44 percent of the neighborhood’s residents are rent burdened, meaning that they spend over 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. That number is, unfortunately, likely to rise given how high prices have gone up over the past decade or so.
He did also admit that the steering committee for the Bushwick Community Plan made up of about 70 community members doesn’t necessarily share his interest in rezoning to guarantee affordable housing. “There is a chance that there won’t be a rezoning,” Reynoso said. “I don’t want that to happen. I feel like we’ve put in a lot of time and resources on this. But the communities, their goal is mostly preservation.”
While it is important to preserve some of the beautiful blocks of brownstones dotting Bushwick, it would be a disservice to community members if the committee prioritized items such as a historic district and height restrictions on buildings at the expense of requiring affordable housing in new developments, a requirement that doesn’t exist currently.
Before 2018 rolls around, any number of new developments will spring up with no formal requirement to designate any portion of the new units as “affordable.” It may take years to undo the subsequent damage.
Featured image courtesy of City Limits.