Today’s news:

Coalition re−defines Triangle

The Broadway Triangle Community Coalition (BTCC), comprising the 40−plus community groups protesting the city’s rezoning plan for the Broadway Triangle, presented its own vision for the Triangle at a raucous meeting this past Monday at Williamsburg’s P.S. 250 (108 Montrose Avenue).

The meeting took place nearly two weeks after a plan from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) was certified by the Department of City Planning, allowing it to come before public review in the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process before it is enacted. The BTCC has loudly opposed this proposal, claiming it has been taken over by select political interests and does not include enough affordable housing or other benefits for the largely low−income population in the immediate area.

The alternative plan the coalition presented last night – put together by graduate city planning students from the Pratt Institute – was unprecedented in its ambitiousness. Planners portrayed it as a visionary plan that would best meet the goals of providing affordable housing, jobs, and open space with a focus on environmental sustainability.

It covers 42 areas, compared to the 18 covered in the HPD plan, and creates 4,800 units of housing, 3,600 of which would be affordable, compared to the 1,895 units in the HPD plan, 910 of which would be affordable.

The plan makes this possible by calling for “high−density housing,” though planners did not specify what this would entail. The HPD plan calls for a maximum building height of eight stories, saying this height strikes the right balance between affordable housing and contextual development.

The BTCC plan also calls for some truly revolutionary features, like the institution of a neighborhood land trust and a community−owned energy utility, along with an underground pneumatic tube system for the neighborhood’s garbage.

It would also include the land owned by Pfizer, a portion of which would become a sustainable business incubator. The plan’s emphasis on sustainability also includes the conversion of Gerry Street into a landscaped greenway, and the creation of other parkland on the site.

While serious questions about the plan’s feasibility abound, Pratt Professor Ron Shiffman, who oversaw the design, told the packed crowd that “nothing you’ve seen here has not been done around the world.”

Encouraging opponents of the city plan to dream big, he said, “We challenge the mayor of the city of New York, who has proposed PlaNYC 2030, to back up the rhetoric [regarding sustainability].”

To the delight of the audience, he compared the HPD plan to the Bush administration and the BTCC plan to the Obama administration. He vaguely mentioned funding streams from the Federal, State, and City budgets said could be obtained to fund the outsize goals of the project.

“The general gist of the vision is doable,” Shiffman said. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years, and I’m telling you, if we can’t do it now, we’ll never be able to do it.”

The meeting sets up a showdown at Community Board 1 on June 9, where the HPD plan begins the ULURP process.

The rezoning has been a point of controversy in the neighborhood ever since HPD hosted a community planning session in July 2007 but invited only two community groups: the Ridgewood−Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (RBSCC) and the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg (UJO).

Since then, these two organizations have been given city contracts to develop affordable housing on the site. Many people affiliated with the 40 community organizations that comprise the BTCC claim the process has smacked of political favoritism. Some have pointed the finger at Assemblymember Vito Lopez, the founder of RBSCC who maintains close ties with the organization, and is a staunch supporter of the HPD plan.

HPD and Lopez have denied such claims, dismissing them as politically−motivated sour grapes. Lopez has pointed to the track record of RBSCC and UJO at developing large−scale affordable housing, saying these groups are best qualified for a project of this magnitude. He characterized the HPD plan as the only practical way to ensure the creation of affordable housing, which both camps say is their top priority.

Lopez has opposed including the Pfizer property in the rezoning, claiming it would only raise the value of the property and make it more difficult for the city to acquire it.

The controversy manifested itself at a May forum for candidates of the 33rd Council. Six of the seven candidates said they did not support the current proposal. The only one who did support it was Stephen Levin, who is Lopez’s chief of staff.

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