With the planned redevelopment of East New York, Brooklyn underway and an unpopular rezoning proposal for Flushing, Queens recently halted, the de Blasio administration is turning its attention to the North Shore of Staten Island.
Rezoning the Bay Street Corridor — an economically and ethnically diverse waterfront neighborhood in a predominantly suburban borough — is likely the next project the administration will undertake as it seeks to alter 15 neighborhoods throughout the city to encourage more residential development.
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In recent months, community groups and Department of City Planning officials have been discussing the initiative, which would add up to 2,569 new apartments, nearly 600,000 square feet of commercial space and 48,595 square feet of community space in a 45-acre zone that includes Bay Street, Canal Street and three city-owned sites. (More than 600 of the housing units and roughly two-thirds of the commercial space could be built under current regulations, according to public documents.)
A public meeting to review the plan is scheduled for the evening of June 15, and a group of advocates and tenants held a rally to demand more from the city on Sunday.
This rezoning presents a new test for the administration, which has proposed these rezonings mainly to increase the housing stock for low-income New Yorkers: whether it can succeed in a more economically diverse neighborhood with politically divergent views.
In East New York, a low-income area rich in transit options, elected officials and advocates wanted more housing for poor residents, so the debate focused on specific rent requirements.
Everyone wanted more investment in the neighborhood — a universal requirement for city officials when they seek permission from local politicians to do a rezoning.
On Staten Island, the plan is bringing into focus the disparate goals of the community.
Borough President James Oddo, a Republican, said he is primarily concerned with the proposed heights of the buildings the city intends to allow along the waterfront. He would not discuss specifics, but several officials who would only speak on background about the plan said the tallest buildings would be up to 16 stories. The design would allow for higher structures at the edges of the rezoned area and shorter ones in the middle.
Oddo is also pushing for rent-regulated homes for middle-class New Yorkers who earn 115 percent of the area median income, which totals a little less than $93,000 for a family of three.
City Councilwoman Debi Rose, a Democrat who represents the North Shore of Staten Island, says she will only approve a plan that includes housing for those making no more than 40 percent of the area median income, or $31,075 for a three-person household.
“While I’m a strong proponent of the location (and) I encourage (City Hall) to rezone this corridor and believe if done right this will revitalize local communities, height and density will always be the rub,” Oddo said in an interview in May. “Staten Island is still Staten Island; it’s not the other boroughs and there is a limit to how tall is tall enough and too tall.”
Rose, in a separate interview, said she wants to preserve waterfront views from being obstructed by tall buildings, but said her energy is focused on income levels.
Under the city’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy that took effect earlier this year, between 20 percent and 30 percent of the apartments built in a rezoned area must be set aside for people making less than the area median income (AMI). The precise formula is determined by the local council member and city officials.
“We need to have deeper affordability than 60 percent of the AMI, so I am pursuing 40 percent, and would absolutely consider 30 percent,” Rose said. “In the plans, in the discussions, they’re using ‘workforce’ language, and that implies a certain AMI range. It’s actually a non-starter for me to not consider more affordability.”
Workforce housing is the city’s term for the option in Mandatory Inclusionary Housing that allows 30 percent of the apartments be rented to those making 115 percent of the area median income. It was a controversial part of the policy, put in place specifically for the Bay Street Corridor rezoning, city officials said at the time.
Rose’s support is critical. Rezonings cannot go through without council approval and the 51-member body nearly always sides with the local member.
Oddo, however, has a close relationship with the mayor and is required to give recommendations before the Council votes. He said that while he would agree to a range of incomes, he favors higher rents.
“Make no bones about it: a chunk of the affordable housing has to be workforce housing,” he said.
Before the rally on Sunday, Javier Valdes of the coalition Make the Road New York said he wants the rezoned area to include low-income tenants in nearby neighborhoods so they aren’t priced out of their homes as the area becomes more attractive to developers.
“The deep affordability means a lot to us,” he said. “That’s something that we’ve been advocating for quite some time.”
As with all rezonings, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration will be pressured to spend its resources improving infrastructure and attending to other requests of the community.
Rose said her wish list is long: a public health facility, more buses, a large educational complex on Castleton Avenue that would serve all grades, a new home for the local police precinct and a recreation center.
Nicholas Siclari, chairman of the local community board, sounded similar concerns in a recent interview.
Community boards must weigh in on rezonings before the go to the Council for a binding vote.
“My biggest concern is going to be the infrastructure and that is our biggest concern of community board 1. We are so transit poor. We got this (nickname) for being the forgotten borough,” Siclari said. “Our biggest concern is infrastructure will not be in place—the traffic, the sewer systems. … We have no New York City hospital. … We have no school seats for the upcoming residents.”
In a statement, de Blasio spokesman Austin Finan said, “Bay Street offers the promise of a live-work neighborhood and provides an incredible opportunity for neighborhood-based planning. This project will bring the kind of rental housing Staten Island seniors, families and young people coming home to the borough need.”
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