To Build Or Not To Build?

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Bushwick residents weigh in on a proposed development of a mini neighborhood.

 

With a city council vote on it looming next month, Bushwick residents are talking about a proposed nine-block development in their neighborhood. The project is a big one, and conversations with residents in the area demonstrate that just about everybody has an opinion about it.

On Oct 23. The City Planning Commission approved zoning changes for a plan by Read Property Group to develop multiple sleek high-rises and create 977 apartments, on and around the former Rheingold Brewery site near Flushing and Bushwick Avenues. The plan will also create two new streets, 17,000 square feet of public open space, which will include retail and garages, and will require additional school space either in the new buildings or in a neighboring school.

The plan has faced much opposition from residents, and accusations circulated in September about Community Board 4 holding an illegal closed vote to approve the plan, which Community Board 4’s District Manager Nadine Whitted refuted. Some residents fear the new development will drive up rent prices, others worry about the health and traffic concerns during construction. Others asked for the process to be halted until the Bushwick community can be included in the planning.

This week The Brooklyn Ink tried to take the pulse of the neighborhood by talking to people on the street, in a thoroughly unscientific survey. Thomas Popowich, 54, who is unemployed and has lived in Bushwick for just over a year, was one of those not happy about the project. He fears that the new high-rises could mean rising costs. “If that’s true that they’re going to build new high-rises, then this neighborhood is going to be gentrifying. I don’t want to be priced out any further than I’ve been already,” he said.

Others like Sarah Jones, 29, who is a barista at Starbucks and has lived in the neighborhood since 1989 welcome the proposed change. “I like the idea, I think it needs to include more affordable apartments in it, but I hope I am able to get in,” said Jones.

Read Property Group pitched the plan in front of City Council on Nov. 12th. Residents and officials, including Brigette Blood, organizer of the Northwest Bushwick Community Group, made it a point to testify. Blood feels it’s important for the community to understand how the process for the development works and what role they can play in the proceedings. She says that because of the scale of the project, there are several issues that need to be addressed to ensure the development meets the community’s needs. The lack of affordable housing and what she sees as a lack of transparency around the development’s proposal are her main concerns. “There has been little opportunity for community involvement. The proposed plan doesn’t meet their need,” said Blood

Salim Salim, 35, whose family has owned Natural Gourmet Deli and Grill on the corner of Flushing Ave. and Broadway for more than 30 years, had mixed feelings about the plan. “For business it’s good, but as far as rent goes. I think rent will go up for residents,” said Salim.

Prashant Sinha, the chief of surgery at nearby Woodhull Hospital, is concerned about how the high-rises would affect the demographics of people that the hospital serves, and where the influx of residents will receive their medical care. “It may help change the nature of the way the hospital works and it may displace a lot of our population,” said Sinha.

Malcolm Sanborn-Hum, Director of Legislation and Communication for City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, said her office’s main goal is to increase awareness of the plan in the community and to help bridge the communication gap between the community and the developers. “We are meeting with the developers and meeting with the community and trying to articulate a position that we feel will be beneficial for both the residents in this area and for working families in this area, and for people that are looking for affordable housing and seeking jobs,” said Sanborn-Hum

The City Council is set to vote on the proposed development on December 10. If it is approved, it will then go to the Mayor’s office for review.

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