‘This comes across as a threat’: Ridgewood tenants turn public rezoning forum into protest

Photo: Max Parrott/QNS

What started as an informational community forum on a tentative rezoning on the property on 1590 Gates Ave. on Tuesday ended up a full-blown protest against the notion of housing as a commodity.

Members of the Ridgewood Tenants Union (RTU) took over the meeting by inviting a series of speakers who rejected the development entirely, held the developer in personal contempt and questioned Councilman Antonio Reynoso’s motives for holding the forum in the first place.

The developer Avery Hall Investments is aiming to rezone the land, which has an as-of-right zoning, meaning that the developer could build up to 200 apartments without being required to build any affordable housing.

Avery Hall’s representative Brian Ezra said that he approached the meeting with the goal of soliciting suggestions on ways that he could make the development more agreeable to residents.

Instead he was confronted by residents shouting, “We don’t want it.”

Ezra began by presenting a plan to rezone the building to an R8X zoning, a design that would lower the height of the building from 24 stories to 16, but increase the overall size of the building to 525 apartments, with 150 of them affordable units. The alternative design would also allow the developer cut down on the number of required parking spaces from 400 to 100. Both plans would keep the Food Bazaar Supermarket currently located on the property as the bottom story of the residential structure.

Whereas the developer legally has the right to proceed with construction in its current as-of-right design, the rezoning would require the design to move through the public review process by the community board and City Council. Ezra added that it was too early for the developer to select any of the precise levels of affordability.

Image provided by Avery Hall Investments

His presentation ended with a slide that displayed both the as-of-right plan and the alternative zoning on the screen side by side.

“We think that delivering 150 affordable units is beneficial versus no affordable units in the as-of-right plan,” said Ezra.

During the public forum, community members expressed how they felt unsatisfied with both of the proposed plans but helpless to stop either.

“In terms of coming to a community and presenting either a 24-story tower or a significant density increase, it really just comes across as a threat that if you don’t get the density increase you want you’re going to build a 24-story project,” said one resident.

The two-hour meeting featured testimonials from roughly a dozen other community members who felt like they were at risk of being displaced from Ridgewood and were concerned that the development would hasten this process.

Several residents turned the conversation toward Reynoso.

“We keep talking about alternatives. If this is the best your system can get me, I don’t want it. You’re a council member, you should have some type of power to organize your own community so we don’t have to do the legwork,” said a community member. “Let’s talk about housing cooperatives. Let’s talk about tenant-owned buildings where I don’t have to worry about a greedy landlord.”

For his part, Reynoso took the criticism in stride. He responded that he was merely creating a forum for the public to share their thoughts publicly, and he had not given his support the proposal in its current incarnation.

After the meeting, Reynoso told QNS, “I know Ridgewood and I know how they organize. I didn’t have expectations. I just wanted the community to feel like they had a place to express themselves and for them to at least see the plan,” he said.

As the meeting let out and the residents streamed onto the street, Reynoso pulled his bike over on his way home to have one last word with Raquel Namuche, the lead organizer for RTU.

“I think you did a really good job organizing in there,” Reynoso said. “I’m proud of you.”