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Staten Island’s Bay Street rezoning rejected by community board

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A Staten Island community board quashed the plan with a 37-3 vote against amid calls for changes.

Max Touhey

Staten Island’s Community Board 1 overwhelming voted against a proposal to rezone a stretch of Bay Street on the borough’s north shore this week, demanding the plan beef up the area’s transportation infrastructure and include additional affordable housing commitments. The board voted 37-3 against the proposal.

Some 250 locals packed into All Saints Episcopal Church on Victory Boulevard Tuesday for a five-hour meeting on the de Blasio administration’s rezoning plan. Vincent Accornero, the panel’s land use chairman, says it was one of the most contentious meetings he’s attended in his 30 years on the board.

“It’s a multi-faceted application and there are many facets that folks have issues with,” says Accornero. “Traditionally, I think we’ve had a problem with city proposals that made promises that weren’t kept that make the community skeptical.… We also have tremendous transportation issues in that area of St. George, and I think it was a universal feeling that a large influx of housing would bring additional issues and there was apprehension that the city won’t step up to the plate to solve them.”

The rezoning is part of the mayor’s initiative to create and preserve 300,000 affordable housing units, in part through rezoning as many as 15 neighborhoods across the five boroughs. The City Planning Commission certified the much-anticipated proposal into the public review process known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in November.

It’s a proposal that spans several neighborhoods (St. George, Tompkinsville and Stapleton) in a roughly 14-block area bounded by Victory Boulevard and Sands Street, along with a two-block area along Canal Street south of Bay Street. It’s set to bring approximately 1,800 mixed-income apartments to the area.

The corridor is currently a light manufacturing district and the R3X district west of Bay Street is a lower-density residential district with one- and two-family detached homes. The proposal would alter that zone to R6B, which falls under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, requiring the creation of affordable units.

Additionally, the expansive proposal includes the development of two city-owned properties (55 Stuyvesant Place and 539 Jersey Street) for commercial and residential use, with an affordable housing component. A pair of special mixed-use districts—the Special St. George District and the Special Stapleton Waterfront District—will be expanded.

It’s the first time the Bay and Canal street corridors have faced zoning changes since 1961.

Locals have a variety of reservations about the plan—namely, fears that it will overburden the area’s infrastructure, including transportation, school capacity, public spaces, and access to the area’s spare supermarkets. Some locals are weary of the plan since other big projects that the city emphatically pitched did not pan out—most recently, and spectacularly, New York Wheel, which was discontinued due to funding and legal issues.

In its disapproval of the proposal, CB1 rattled off a series of conditions the city must meet to gain its support, such as new school construction, 20 acres of public open space, new ferry service—which the mayor announced as part of his State of the City Address Thursday—and renovations to the Cromwell recreation center.

Staten Island City Council member Debi Rose, whose vote will weigh heavily once the rezoning snakes through ULURP and makes it to the council for a final vote, sat through the marathon meeting, taking in community concerns and demands.

“It was gratifying to see so many local residents take part in [Tuesday’s] community board meeting,” Rose said in a statement. “My focus since this rezoning was first proposed has always been about holistic planning, meeting a range of housing needs, and infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure—including recreation facilities, parks, open space, traffic improvements, school seats, sewers, and everything needed to make our neighborhoods function. I have heard the concerns of local residents, and I will take those with me to the negotiating table as the public review process continues.”

The Department of City Planning stressed that it is open to weaving local feedback into the plan.

“We were clear up front: not only have we already funded and implemented enhancements for this area, the City will continue to listen to input from the public and elected officials throughout the public review process,” says Joe Marvilli, a DCP spokesperson. “This will allow us to prioritize the most important investments to help the neighborhoods along Bay Street thrive.”

Displacement fears were also stoked due to the plan, with the city’s draft environmental impact statement finding that an estimated 1,752 residents in unregulated housing are at risk of indirect displacement. To counter that, the city will set aside 30 percent of the proposed new units as permanently affordable and include a provision of affordable housing for a portion of locals vulnerable to indirect displacement, city documents show.

Some who support the plan agree with CB1’s call to address the area’s sorely-needed infrastructure upgrades, but feel the rezoning will ultimately be a boon to the community and real estate interests.

“You know, I think the community board’s concern—making sure that the city provides the right infrastructure to accommodate for this density—is valid and I think that has to be a part of the plan as well. But I think overall—as a general concept—this is absolutely the right way to go for New York City and the community at large,” says Jakub Nowak, a commercial real estate broker at Marcus & Millichap with a focus on Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens.

“I mean, this is just based on very basic economic theory, right? You add to the supply side of the equation and you’re going to lower prices over all and you’re going to add to the competition, which benefits renters,” he continued.

Now that the community board has passed judgement on the plan, the proposal heads to Staten Island Borough President James Oddo’s office for review. Once Oddo issues recommendations, it will head to the City Planning Commission for approval and finally to the City Council for a vote.

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