Photo: Chika Kobari
Residents of 1609 Dekalb Ave. and 950 Hart St. rally against the proposed housing development that could force them to move.

Since news surfaced in February about a proposed housing development next to their loft buildings, a group of tenants living just across the Ridgewood border into Bushwick have experienced a constant feeling of uncertainty about their living situation.

A large parking lot at 1601 DeKalb Ave. lies next to the loft buildings, and the developers at Camber Property Group want to turn the lot into two huge, nine-story apartment buildings with a total of 122 units. It’s a sign of the gentrification crisis that has swept through Bushwick and bled into Ridgewood — driving up property values and rents, yet pricing longtime residents out of town — but the project has one big caveat that could force the loft residents out.

Most of the parking lot is zoned as a manufacturing district, which means it can’t be used for residential property. The developers have therefore applied for the re-zoning of the lot and the surrounding area, including the two loft buildings, two other residential buildings, a post office, commercial and retail businesses.

If the project is approved through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) — a requirement for any development that involves a zoning change — the loft at 1609 DeKalb Ave. will be upzoned, making it an easy target for future development. 

“A lot of people are stressed out, of course, they don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Marcel Negret, a trained city planning professional and a resident at 1609 DeKalb Ave. “Many of my neighbors started trying to figure out where they would go. At the very beginning we were not optimistic at all about what the outcome would be.”

The other major factor that puts 1609 DeKalb Ave. at the most risk has to do with its own legal status as a residential building. According to the Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) for the new development, 1609 DeKalb Ave. and its neighboring loft at 950 Hart St. were both illegally converted into residential buildings. While the Hart Street loft is currently going through the legalization process through the New York City Loft Law, the DeKalb Avenue loft is not.

While the EAS notes that the proposed zoning changes would bring both buildings to conforming status, it also specifically identifies 1609 DeKalb Ave. as a projected future development site for an office building or a new residential building.

Negret and his neighbors realized they needed to take action if they hoped to save their building, where he said many tenants also run their businesses. They formed a tenant’s association, which Negret is the head of, and began to organize rallies and attend public meetings during the ULURP process.

At the ULURP hearing at Brooklyn Borough Hall on April 17 where Rick Gropper, principal at Camber, presented the project, Negret and some of his neighbors argued their case as well, and they gained another prominent ally in their fight. The parking lot where the proposed buildings will be built is heavily used by employees of Wyckoff Heights Medical Center a block away, and hospital president and CEO Ramon Rodriguez said he can’t lose that space.

“Right now, nurses and doctors who I can’t recruit unless they have a place to go to park will not come to our place,” Rodriguez said at the hearing. “So to close parking without a replacement, without some kind of mitigation … is a failure to understand what our problems are.”

Rodriguez added that despite Camber’s claims that it has performed community outreach about the development, he only heard about it 24 hours prior to the April 17 hearing.

Camber has not yet responded to a request for additional comment.

Momentum continued to build in opposition to the development when the very next day Community Board 4 voted against it. According to District Manager Celeste Leon, the vote of disapproval from the board was directly related to the Bushwick Community Plan derived by the board along with Council members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal in 2014 because of zoning concerns in the district.

The proposed development is not consistent with the goals of the community planning process and the needs of the community at large,” Leon told QNS. “The way that it stands right now, it will adversely effect adjacent residents and businesses.”

Leon also commended the tenants of the affected buildings for their continued presence at all public hearings, and Negret said they have realized this issue is much larger than just their own block.

“It’s a community issue for Bushwick and its neighboring communities,” Negret said. “By allowing this project to become certified, you’re eroding that commitment to that community based plan.”

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, May 17, Negret and the tenants of 1609 DeKalb Ave. and 950 Hart St. will march from 301 Grove St. to 1601 DeKalb Ave. to protest the development.

With Board 4’s decision made, the borough president, City Planning Commission and City Council still have to review the application, with the City Council having the ultimate say.


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FlipoutNYC May 16, 2018 / 05:16PM
wawa, cry me a river. Move somewhere else then

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