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Pfizer rezoning inches forward with approval by City Council subcommittee

The full City Council vote still looms ahead

Department of City Planning

The City Council’s Zoning & Franchises subcommittee has approved an application for the rezoning of the Broadway Triangle’s former Pfizer headquarters site, paving the way for an approval by the full City Council in the weeks to come.

Under the proposed rezoning, the South Williamsburg site is poised to give way to eight buildings with 1,146 apartments—25 percent of which will be affordable under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing—404 parking spaces, 64,000 square feet of retail, and 26,000 square feet of open space.

The rezoning was approved by the subcommittee on Tuesday in a 5-2 vote, but the meeting wasn’t without its flare-ups. The rezoning has attracted the ire of the community and its elected representatives since 2009, when a rezoning of eight blocks nearby ignited a debate between the neighborhoods' Hasidic, black, and Latino communities about the land's best use and who developments in the region should cater to.

Community groups, such as the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition and Churches for Fair Housing, have argued that this type of rezoning unfairly favors the Orthodox Jewish community in the neighborhood. Developer the Rabsky Group has, in turn, called these accusations “anti-semitic bullying.

But amid the trepidations of members of the subcommittee, including Antonio Reynoso, Ritchie Torres, and Jumaane Williams, the developers have agreed to a restrictive declaration on the site that would both work to ensure an opportunity for fair housing for all New Yorkers as well as hold Rabsky to its word.

Rabsky has not done much to woo the surrounding community. At a nearby development site at the former Rheingold Brewery, the developer refused to honor the site’s previous owner’s decision to include additional affordable housing than what’s required by the city, citing that it was merely a promise to the community by a past owner.

Under the restrictive declaration at Pfizer, Rabsky agreed that it would commit 25 percent of the development’s units as affordable—a designation that would follow the deed for the site, rather than the developer.

Rabsky has also pledged to make good on its promises to the community, including providing support for those applying for the affordable apartments, notifying local community boards and other area organizations about the affordable housing lottery, and providing real-time dust monitoring to a school neighboring the site throughout the brownfield site’s remediation.

“I feel strongly this is not only a fair application to approve, but also goes above and beyond any other application I’ve had in my district when it comes to ensuring that what they say they’re going to do, they actually do,” said Council member Stephen Levin.

But not all on the subcommittee were convinced. “This is how segregation happens in the city of New York,” said Council member Antonio Reynoso, who reps the area surrounding the proposed rezoning site, before disapproving the applications. “A restrictive declaration is a perfect example of a guarantee that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. We will affirmatively approve this project, and continue segregation within this district. I think we’re making a mistake here today.”

Rabsky Group is, of course, pleased with the events of the meeting, even if the proposals didn’t gain unanimous support. In a statement for Curbed, Tom Corsillo, spokesperson for the Rabsky Group, said that the vote is “an important milestone in helping meet the overwhelming need for mixed-income housing in East Williamsburg. “

The rezoning applications were ultimately approved by the subcommittee and will appear in front of the City Council’s Land Use committee on Thursday.

[Update: The City Council’s Land Use committee approved the rezoning on Thursday. It will head to a full council vote—and an anticipated approval—in the weeks to come.]