Ridgewood Split On Rezoning Plan
Ridgewood residents spoke out about a rezoning plan that would clear the way for residential development on an industrial lot during a public hearing held by Community Board 5 last Wednesday night, Mar. 12, in Middle Village.
The session at Christ the King Regional High School centered around a proposal before the Department of City Planning to convert the zoning in an area generally bounded by Flushing Avenue, Starr Street and Woodward and Onderdonk avenues from industrial to residential.
The change would enable the owner of a long-vacant lot located at 176 Woodward Ave. to erect an apartment house measuring up to four stories tall with 88 dwelling units in a neighborhood which, many speakers claimed, is moving away from its manufacturing roots.
Attorney Steve Sinacore spoke about the project on behalf of the property owner-176 Woodward Ave. LLC. Over several decades, he noted, the lot has been used to store construction vehicles, materials and equipment-but has also seen its share of illegal dumping and criminal activity.
“The owner has owned the site for 27 years, and over the number of years, he’s been approached by many people asking him to do something to have the site cleaned up,” he said. “At this particular location, there have been significant problems with dumping. … There’s been a lot of criminal activity over the years.”
Changing the zoning from its current M1-1 for light industrial purposes to R6B would permit the construction of the proposed mixeduse building with ground floor retail and apartments above it. Sinacore stated the building would rise to four stories on the corners but would be set back to three stories away from the street.
Architect Tom Loftus described the building’s design as fitting in with “the fabric of the nearby neighborhood,” with an exterior featuring brickfaces similar to local residences. The 88 units will vary in size from 500 sq. ft. studio apartments to 1,200 sq. ft. threebedroom dwellings.
Sinacore projected monthly rents would range from $1,000 for each studio unit to $1,800 for a threebedroom apartment-at or slightly below average rents for similar dwellings in the surrounding area.
A parking garage with up to 118 spaces would be constructed in the basement. Providing as many offstreet parking spaces as possible, Sinacore noted, was a detail “stressed to us throughout the process.”
The blueprints also include a “multi-purpose room” measuring up to 1,500 sq. ft. which community residents will be invited to use for various functions, the attorney added. In planning the project, he noted, the ownership heard feedback from local artists about their desire for a space to hold exhibits.
“It’s really cleaning up the area and creating something that will beautify the area, beautify the block that it’s on,” Sinacore said. “Essentially, it’s taking an underutilized site that’s surrounded by residential use-which is currently occupied by trucks, construction materials-and allowing it to be beautified.”
Change a long time in coming
Many who offered comment before the board spoke in the project’s favor, stating it would serve a need for new homes and jobs in the neighborhood.
Joe Pergolese, a long-time resident of Ridgewood, stated the Woodward Avenue lot is “unpleasant” in its current state and the project would move along in the gradual evolution of the area from an industrial hub to a haven for homes.
“I’ve been waiting for 19 years for this development to happen,” Pergolese said. “It’s going to have a good impact in the community. At one time, it may have been a great development area for commercialization. The area has changed. There are a lot more people that want to live in the area. … What we need is a building to happen there. The area has changed; time has changed.”
“Last time I looked, we don’t do much manufacturing here,” added Starr Street resident Nat Tersey. “I don’t see a benefit to maintaining a law that was great 30 years ago if it doesn’t work today.”
Another Ridgewood resident, CraigMontalbano, expressed similar sentiments, stating, “We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can continue the lot for manufacturing.”
Kweighbaye Kotee, also a Starr Street resident, welcomed the project as not only improving the neighborhood’s safety but also bringing more affordable homes into the area.
“The prices in Bushwick are insanely expensive,” Kotee said. “A two-bedroom goes for like $2,000 [a month]. I think it’s a lot more affordable for families. It promises business; more people and more residential will bring more business on Woodward Avenue.”
Change may have consequences
Even so, several individuals expressed trepidation about the plan. Bridget Blood of the Northeast Bushwick Community Group used her neighborhood’s experiences in navigating the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) to warn Ridgewood residents to stay attentive and be wary of promises.
“Here, the ULURP is an application process in which the developer asks you and Council Member [Antonio] Reynoso … to change the rules so it can moderately profit and build expensive homes that do not meet our local needs,” Blood said. “This current zoning is absolutely a community resource. You own the zoning, Ridgewood. Should you agree to change the zoning and allow for a developer’s dream, I would urge you to advocate for further mitigation” to the site and community.
Manuel Jalonschi of Ridgewood called for “binding agreements” from the developer to keep rents affordable, adding charging high rents could cause long-time residents to be priced out of the neighborhood.
“What are we going to get that comes with this to make sure our community handles this?” he asked. “This is going to be a high-end luxury housing development. … If that’s what you want and you think you’re ready for it, we need to consider if everything’s there. And if we’re not, we need to take a big step back and not make a big decision because the money looks good.”
Two other Ridgewood residents-Sarah Feldman and Neil Myers-offered similar concerns and stressed the need for mixed-use development in the neighborhood to ensure new small businesses have room to start and grow.
“We can’t have a luxury building where the manufacturing is,” Myers said. “It’s going to upset that and topple the industry that’s already there.”
Later during the Board 5 meeting, Ted Renz urged his colleagues on the board to “keep an open mind” when considering the project, but added, “I don’t believe manufacturing is dead” in the neighborhood.
Walter Sanchez, Board 5 Land Use Committee chairperson, stated the panel would consider the proposal at its April meeting, then present a resolution on the project before the full board at its next session.