Tuesday, July 14, 2009

U-L-U-R-P D-A-Y.... Nights! Part One

5:32 PM: We're back in the saddle, live from Community Board One in Williamsburg with another Short Story running diary. The Brooklyn Paper's Ben Muessig and I get off the G train and walk up Ainslie Street, talking about the block of tall developments along Union that Ben says is coming along. I have a different view, since the buildings likely led to my eventual gentrification-driven migration from the neighborhood.

"Oh no," said Ben, spying a crowd that had formed on the steps of 211 Ainslie.
"Get your camera out," I said, as Ben and I do the slow-motion gun fight reference to the guys from Hot Fuzz. You know what I mean.

5:37 We come to the press conference already in process. The Gazette's Juliet Linderman is there taking notes. So is The Daily News' Erin Durkin. We've got a CBS 2 news crew filming too. In the crowd on the Manhattan Avenue side are a bunch of United Neighbors Organizations (not the UNO group that is based in Chicgao), Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, and Churches United for Fair Housing members, as well as Councilwoman Diana Reyna (she showed up early!), Congressional Liaison Evelyn Cruz, City Council candidate Jo Anne Simon, and El Puente's Luis Garden Acosta, UNO's Rolando Guzman and Alison Cordero, and Brooklyn Legal Services' Marty Needelman. All eyes are on Rob Solano, Director of Churches United for Fair Housing, who is running the show.

"Our message is to the mayor now. It's a unified group of people, African Americans, Latinos, and Hasidic community," says Solano. "We want a plan, not just a rezoning that would be transparent and inclusive for all these community members."

Evelyn Cruz, community liaison to Rep Nydia Velazquez, adds her two cents, but inflation has caused the amount to rise to about to a quarter.

"I'm encouraging board members to vote no on the plan if you believe what we need is real change. We have one message to the mayor today. We say to the mayor, listen to the people. They're your voters. These are the voters you should be suporting. Listen to our community and finally bring home a rezoning we can live with," says Cruz.

On the Ainslie side of the street is the polite opposition which largely supports the rezoning action. It's members of the Broadway Triangle Task Force (BTTF), composed primarily of Brooklyn Unidos and Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizen Council (RBSCC) members and they're shouting "Support Rezoning! Vote Yes" repeatedly. It's an interesting facet of this community that newish-sounding groups that spring up seemingly out of thin air (such as the BTCC, BTTF or Churches United for Fair Housing) are composed of a familiar cast of characters, kind of like every Aaron Sorkin production following the West Wing.
Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry are members of the Broadway Triangle Task Force.

6:02 PM. Councilmember Diana Reyna and CB1 Chair Chris Olechowski (aka Chairman Chris) talk for several minutes as the RBSCC's Emily Kurtz sweetly greets the BTFF members, "Thank you all for coming," The New York Times' Kareem Fahim scoots over to talk to Brooklyn Legal Services' Marty Needelman, while I catch up with Luis Garden Acosta of El Puente. I haven't seen him in a month. It feels longer.
"Miguel Martinez... Washington Heights... resigned? That's major!" says Acosta.

You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.

Reyna has taken a seat but her Chief of Staff Will Florentino is still standing, surveying the scene. I catch Leah Archibald of EWVIDCO and she says that Ernie Wong is stuck outside.
"I'm going outside and I'm going to switch places with him," says Leah.

6:15 PM CB 1 staffers and an NYPD community affairs officer close admittance after reaching their headcount limit at the door and several community regulars are not going to be able to get it. They should have moved to a bigger venue, like Harry Van Arsdale. I say this out loud.
"It's not about a bigger venue," says Juliet. "They want to limit the drama. With a bigger venue, this would go on forever."

The Bushwick Observer's (Bushwick's only community newspaper) Ken Kern is leaning against the side of the wall while his counterpart at Greenline, Jose Leon, gets up from his seat to speak to Rob Solano and Alison Cordero.

"Okay, Evelyn prevailed and Ernie is back in," says Leah. "This is the most ass-kicking iced coffee ever. I'm telling you: Fortunato's."

6:22 PM There's a backlog in the line, and I see a familiar face at front. So does Diana Reyna. A few minutes pass, and in walks The Legend himself, Greg Hanlon. Greg has been breathing this story long before anybody else on Press Row got a sniff, and has gotten ripped up a few times for it too. Welcome back, Greg.

"I wasn't going to miss this for the world,"says Greg.

Press Row just hasn't been the same without the presence of The Legend.
6:32 PM Chairman Chris starts the meeting and District Manager Gerry Esposito runs the roll. Twenty-four members accounted for. That's right about a fifty percent attendance rate. Not good (Note: this number rose as the meeting went on with a voting count of 38). Chairman Chris gives the floor to Councilmember Reyna who reads a statement which I have excerpted here:

I am urging you this evening to say no to the city forcing their will on the community and that they withdraw their plan as proposed so as to allow us as a community to best plan for the future.
In contrast to the 2005 Waterfront Rezoning Plan, the process by which this item has come to Community Board 1 for a vote has lacked a transparent and open dialogue. Our community will suffer the consequences of planning without input in the development of a site that will forever have negative irreversible consequences.
This is being done when the city has not delivered on the waterfront rezoning promises for affordable housing. Through all the displacement, overcrowding and obscene rents in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the city chooses to sit on property that has been ready to be disposed and developed through a commitment made in the W/G Waterfront rezoning. The city has not delivered.
Like the Waterfront Rezoning, we deserve an open process where all ideas are considered. Moreover, at this meeting we must ask why the city has not delivered on 4-year-old promises and why it is giving away land and millions of dollars before you have the opportunity to consider the zoning changes presented. We should insist on a transparent process and demand the city fulfill the promises made to our community 4 years ago!
No to a deal and yes to a plan.

6:41 We're on item number one. I hear a commotion outside and wander out to see what's up.
"I'm a board member! I'm a board member" says Teresa Toro, who bowls through the security posted at the door. Ken Diamondstone and Doug Bivano, however, are not board members.
"Hi Aaron!" says Doug. "We're trying to get in!"
"Hi Aaron!" says Ken Diamondstone. He's being held back by the Community Affairs officer.
I see St. Nick's Michael Rochford (aka "Mike Roch") scowling in the back and Diana is talking with him. Marty Needelman is getting increasingly agitated and Rob Solano is smiling and shaking his head. Will Florentino is furiously pacing the lobby and talking on his cell phone, as Diana has crossed the line and is trying to get community members into the room. That effort is not going well.
"This is a sham process, they're trying to keep you out!" says Needelman.

6:50 PM We go to a transportation presentation about the traffic calming project on Cooper Park and Chairman Chris wants to know where the Department of Transportation rep is. A few minutes later, a frazzled DOT project manager finally nudges her way through the crowd.
"Yes! Yes! They wouldn't let me in," said the DOT's Kerry Tyler.
Juliet asks if there is anyone else who needs to be let in. I tell her that Mike Roch is trying to get in and he's stuck outside. Mike Roch is really itching to get into the building.
7:06 PM Pratt Graduate School's Ron Shiffman and El Pueuis Garden Acosta step up to the plate to give their presentation but first Rami "Scrap" Metal from David Yassky's office gets recognized by the New Chair and speaks briefly. BTFF members silently hold up signs in support of the rezoning.
"Why isn't David here?" Esteban asks.
I know! It's because David and his Yassky for Comptroller staff are at this.

Luis gives a background of the history of the Broadway Triangle negotiations, focusing on the process:

Two organizations were invited to represent the community's voice and only one org would be invited to represent the community board, and only one would be recognized. Only one organization, albeit a respected one, would be the only group that would be invited. That can't happen.
It's not about affordable housing. Even the plan that Ron is about to present is just a plan. We don't want you to think about the plan, as an end all, be all. What we're most committed to is good government practice and openness and communication.
We're not asking you to vote on the plan tonight, we're asking you to vote on your mission. You are the guardians. To allow all these other vested interests to step between you and your office and your mission then we don't have a community that will provide its own future.

Shiffman goes through a two-minute drill of the Pratt plan introduced at a previous BTCC meeting and puts his case forward.

We're not asking for a a rezoning action. What we want is a plan for the area to address how we build for the affordable housing. It should be a little bit higher density have a greater number of units, and provide for more open space.

They take questions and there are several about the Pfizer property and how it fits into the picture. More on this later. UJO Executive Director Rabbi David Niederman, who speaks for the first time tonight, asks a follow-up with a suggestion and Shiffman kids him about stealing an idea.

"There's a different economic environment today, with spread out tax incentives. We can benefit from a bargain sale. Ten years into the future, I think we can bring them to the table. They've made a contractual obligation with the city of New York to add jobs," says Shiffman.

There's a question about green building and sustainable housing which Shiffman jumps all over.
"There's a new sustainable housing initiative that's been passed in Washington. If you build the kind of project proposed in the broadway triangle, you won't get one penny of that. If you build the kind of proejct in the Bronx that is sustainable, you'll get 100 percent," says Shiffman.

Mike Roch standing next to HPD's Jack Hammer. Did you really think I wouldn't notice?

7:25: Broadway Triangle Task Force, featuring Maria Viera. This gets a much louder applause:

I endorse the city's plan primarily for the following reasons.
First the plan will result in over 900 units of affordable housing available to community residents earning from 30 to 80 percent AMI. All apartments built on City-owned land will be 100 percent affordable.
Further the proposed inclusionary housing program will create even more affordable housing units.
Second, the plan follows the example of recent CB1 rezonings in North Brooklyn by providing for R6A and R7A contextual zoning, liminitng buildings to 6-8 stories.
The task force also supports the CB1 land use committe's recommendations caling for increased greenspace ration and a relocation fund for manufacturing and industrial business in the Triangle.
I urge the communtiy board to vote yes today to allow for the transformation of this area which has for too long been a blight on our community.

Question and answers for Maria. One community board member asks why she was excluded from the charette discussions
"Well you should have asked your councilmember Diana Reyna. She was there," says Maria.
"It's not her district" says Greenpoint Gazette publisher Jeff Mann.
I've got a question. Where's Evan Thies?

Esteban has a question about a brochure distributed but he's really asking why the BTFF was a late addition to the CB1 agenda. Apparently the BTFF was added Monday night to the public session agenda. RBSCC's Scott Short attempts to answer way, saying the plan has been a long process. For the record, we are not related. Or are we?

"I asked Jack Hammer what he thinks of your blog. He gave me a look," says Jeff.

NAG's Peter Gillespie, who's been quiet all meeting, suddenly decides to tee off:
"To me the failure here is not the product it's the process and especially tonight.
Why was the community baord not involved in the the planning process from the beginning?" asks Gillespie.
Rabbi Niederman circles the wagons in response
"Let me say this ended in chaos. HPD has come to the community board in the process of hundreds of people participating to present the plan before these groups started politicking."

7:45 PM: Gillespie moves to move public session up for this meeting, just for this meeting, before committee reports. Esteban seconds. There's some squabbling over procedure, but Chairman Chris locks it down. It's his first major decision and Chairman Chris handles it well.
Motion fails 16-20-2. More squabbling.
"Vote was taken, the vote was counted. It was a legitimate vote." says Chairman Chris.

Time for Chairman Chris's report. Chairman Chris notes that Mike Roch (ironically) raised an issue about the capacity of the room, which is close to 200. We seem a few over that now, but everyone has behaved well so far.
"Isn't it a conflict of interest if Rabbi Niederman (or anyone else in UJO) to be voting on the Broadway Triangle rezoning if they are going to benefit directly?" asks Luis Garden Acosta. He's right on track and Ward Dennis clears this up a bit later. Meanwhile, Esteban asks why the BTFF was a late addition and we get our answer:

Chairman Chris: I think that's a pretty simple answer: equal representation. I didn't feel it was appropriate to leave anybody out. I believe we should have an open voice, as many participants as possible. So I allowed them the privilege of speaking in front of us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jack Hammer? That can not be real.