A new Brooklyn development that would bring 900 apartments to a busy stretch of Flatbush Avenue has become a point of contention between the city’s competing pro-development and pro-preservation sets, setting up a fierce battle as the project makes its way through NYC’s complicated ULURP process.
The project in question, at 80 Flatbush Avenue, is a seemingly perfect example of transit-oriented development—i.e. a mixed-use project close to public transportation that also provides community benefits. It’s become more prevalent in major cities in the U.S. in recent years; for example, Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in 2016 that makes it easier to build new development near transit. (Developer incentives are also typically part of the package.)
The site is a stone’s throw from no fewer than four subway stops, including the bustling Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center hub; in addition to those 900 apartments (a mix of market-rate and affordable housing), plans call for two new schools, including a new home for the Khalil Gibran International Academy, and cultural space. The project has a diverse group of supporters behind it, including Transportation Alternatives, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the Arab American Family Support Center, neighborhood residents, and a nascent cohort of YIMBY activists.
But plans also call for two skyscrapers, one rising a whopping 986 feet, which would make it the second-tallest Brooklyn building upon completion (the tallest will be the supertall at 9 DeKalb Avenue, just a few blocks away).
This is where much of the resistance comes in: Opponents (which include the Municipal Art Society and the Boerum Hill Association) believe that the 900-foot tower will overwhelm the surrounding area, which includes the historic neighborhoods of Boerum Hill and Fort Greene. (The triangular lot is in a sort of no-man’s-land at the nexus of those two neighborhoods and Downtown Brooklyn.)
During a meeting at Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’s office last night, multiple speakers—including Public Advocate Letitia James—argued the project is wildly out of character with those brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods, and would cast shadows over neighboring homes and landmarks, such as the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building.
Public Advocate @TishJames reiterates her opposition to the project, says the "the soul for Brooklyn is up for grabs". It is-- from those who would have it frozen in amber and exculde all but the wealthiest New Yorkers. pic.twitter.com/Mh6pIPunCc— Kyle D (@kynakwado) May 1, 2018
The concern over neighborhood character is a familiar refrain in recent years, as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration seeks to rezone neighborhoods or developer-owned sites that it believes can accommodate more housing. So far, the administration has successfully pushed through several large-scale rezonings in places like East New York, the Bronx’s Jerome Avenue, and East Harlem, each of which will now get hundreds of market-rate and affordable apartments, along with other community benefits.
But those actions have also been criticized for their part in accelerating gentrification in neighborhoods that have been historically low-income. Critics argue that more spot rezonings, like the one at 80 Flatbush, should take place in wealthier neighborhoods—of which the Dumbo/Boerum Hill/Downtown Brooklyn area, with a median income of more than $80,000 (according to American Community Survey data), would qualify—to offset gentrification’s effects.
In some cases, opponents to these spot rezonings have gotten what they wanted (sort of); take, for example, Cobble Hill’s former Long Island College Hospital, the subject of a fierce battle between the developer and the community. Developer Fortis originally pitched two ideas for the hospital site: one using its as-of-right zoning, comprising several buildings with market-rate condos; and another that could be realized with a zoning change (through the city’s ULURP process), which would have brought more dense towers, affordable apartments, a public school and senior housing. But community members did not want denser housing, and ultimately prevailed.
But was it really a win? When an agreement over rezoning couldn’t be reached, Fortis decided to proceed with the as-of-right scheme. Now, three buildings—all of which will have market-rate condos—are in the works, without any of the benefits like senior housing or parkland. The towers aren’t as dense as what Fortis had pitched as part of its ULURP plan, but the loss of affordable housing at a time when the city desperately needs more of it is devastating.
Whether or not a similar story plays out for 80 Flatbush remains to be seen; the project is currently making its way through the ULURP process, with last night’s meeting just one of several that must take place before the City Council (and, ultimately, the mayor) hands down its final decision. Already, Community Board 2’s Land Use committee has voted against the project, but there are still a few more steps—full CB approval, going before the City Planning Commission, and the like—before anything is final.