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Rezoning helps define candidates

Perhaps the most revealing moment of Tuesday night’s City Council candidate forum for the 33rd District came at the very end, when candidates were asked their thoughts on the controversial Broadway Triangle rezoning.

The rezoning covers a large tract of land bordering Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedford−Stuyvesant. It would convert the long industrial area into residential mixed use, creating some 1,850 units of housing, around 950 of which would be affordable. Recently, it was certified by the Department of City Planning to enter the public review ULURP process, which will determine if it is enacted into law or not.

But it has come under heavy criticism from those who say the process surrounding it has been exclusionary in nature. Critics say that two community non−profits – the Ridgewood−Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (RBSCC) and the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg (UJO) – have been given preferential treatment from the city. Critics claim these groups have exerted influence over the rezoning and have been given contracts to develop the area’s affordable housing at the exclusion of other community groups.

At Tuesday night’s forum, six of the seven candidates – Evan Thies, Jo Anne Simon, Isaac Abraham, Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone, and Doug Biviano – counted themselves among the critics of the process surrounding the rezoning.

No candidate was harsher in his denunciation than Thies, who said the rezoning “has been one of the worst shams of a process I’ve seen working in the City Council or the community. The process has been compromised to the point of corruption. There may even be an investigation by the time it’s over.”

The only candidate to defend the rezoning was Stephen Levin. Levin works as Chief of Staff to Assemblymember Vito Lopez, one of the champions of the rezoning. Lopez founded RBSCC, and has formed a political alliance with UJO.

Levin and Lopez have defended the awarding of contracts to these two groups, saying they have the best track record of developing large−scale affordable housing.

They have also defended the rezoning against another criticism – that its maximum eight−story buildings do not create enough affordable housing – by saying that building anything bigger would be grossly out of context with the surrounding neighborhood.

“I don’t think we want 30−story buildings there,” Levin said at the forum.

Another opponent of the plan is Isaac Abraham, a member of the Satmar Hasidic community aligned with Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum. UJO, the organization that has received development contracts for the Triangle, is aligned with Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum. The two brothers and their followers are embroiled in a bitter feud over who will succeed Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, their late father.

“You can’t have one person decide because of his position as an elected official,” Abraham said at the forum, a not−so−thinly veiled reference to Lopez.

In the end, however, it might not matter what these candidates think, because the matter may be settled before one of them is sworn into office next January 1.

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