The City Council approved a proposal to rezone part of Staten Island’s north shore Thursday after four years of review—paving the way for the disputed plan to become the de Blasio administration’s sixth neighborhood rezoning.
The city-led zoning change seeks to bring a swell of apartments, retail, and offices to a 14-block span of Staten Island’s Bay Street corridor running through Tompkinsville and Stapleton. Throughout the process, the effort has faced objections from area advocates and elected officials. Staten Island’s Community Board 1 overwhelmingly rejected the plan in January, the City Planning Commission gave divided support in April, and Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo vocally opposes the plan, calling it short-sighted and lacking in city infrastructure and transportation commitments.
But City Council member Debi Rose pushed back on criticism during Thursday’s vote and touted the $250 million package of “unprecedented” investments her office negotiated with the city. She is “proud” of the package she ultimately secured, she said.
“This has not been an easy process but I pursued it willingly to address depressing need for housing and to secure the public investments that are long deserved,” said Rose. “Too many people are fearful that rising housing costs across the city will someday force them out of their longtime neighborhoods. These fears are real and this plan address them.”
The council approved the rezoning in a 44-2 vote with Staten Island council members Joe Borelli and Steven Matteo the only lawmakers to oppose to the plan.
The city puts most recent estimates of homes created by the rezoning at approximately 2,600 new apartments. Of those, some 450 units are earmarked as permanently affordable homes through the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, with another 850 below-market-rate units slated for city-owned sites on the north shore, the city projects. The de Blasio administration also expects the rezoning to spur the creation of some 1,000 jobs in the area.
Key items secured amid the review process include a $92 million commitment to build a new Cromwell Recreation Center —a 3.5-acre complex on a pier that is all but demolished. Funds for the project will be included in the 2020 fiscal year budget and the center is expected to open its doors by 2025, according to Rose. Also part of the deal include the development of 12 acres of waterfront esplanade, new sewer infrastructure, streetscape improvements, and two new schools along with an annex for an existing elementary school. All told, the city has dedicated funding for 1,776 school seats to the north shore.
Vincent Accornero, the land use chair of Community Board 1 called the majority of the city’s commitments “a lot of fluff” and pointed to a dearth of improvements for mass transit and capacity on the Bay Street corridor itself.
“I have trouble considering it mitigation because I don’t believe there’s adequate infrastructure built into the plan,” said Accornero, who was disappointed that a homeless shelter initially eyed for 44 Victory Boulevard was left off the table amid discussions. “The rezoning provides such potential for an influx of people to the area and just doesn’t provide anywhere near the infrastructure to support them.”
When it comes to transportation upgrades, the Department of City Planning says it is “leading a larger coordinated effort with an interagency team.” This includes studying new traffic signals, pedestrian islands, and wider sidewalks and medians. Separately, the Department of Transportation says it is looking into a new Bus Rapid Transit line and will work with DCP on a Traffic Monitoring Program to track development over time and “adjust the scope and timing of mitigation measures” as new development unfolds.
But such measures are a far cry from concrete improvements needed to prepare the area for a boom of newcomers, opponents say, and local leaders remain skeptical.
“It is reckless, detached, and weak-willed to create entirely new neighborhoods with absolutely no foresight or consideration of infrastructure and community concerns,” Oddo told Curbed in April. “In sum, this behavior shows a complete disregard for the interests of Staten Island.”