City Council Trims Housing in Ninth Street Gowanus Rezoning

Council member Shahana Hanif with 153 Ninth Street, Brooklyn

Council member Shahana Hanif with 153 Ninth Street, Brooklyn (Zillow, ABNY, Getty)

Just because an area is rezoned to encourage affordable housing does not mean it will be built.

That is the concern voiced by the City Planning Commission to changes made to a proposed rezoning of Ninth Street in Gowanus negotiated by the local City Council member.

The deal saves the rezoning, which faced local opposition, but will result in fewer affordable apartments than proposed — and potentially none at all.

The City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and the Committee on Land Use on Tuesday approved the changes, which pairs the area’s industrial zoning with lower density residential than the developer sought.

During a hearing Monday, City Planning representatives said the changes orchestrated by Council member Shanaha Hanif would trim 25 to 35 apartments, including seven to 10 affordable units, from a mixed-use development planned for 153-157 Ninth Street.

The proposed rezoning, now a fait accomplis, would apply to 16 privately owned, midblock tax lots between Second and Third avenues.

The rezoning applicant, the Angelina Gatto Trust, had proposed a nine-story building with 48 apartments, 13 of which would be affordable through the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, as well as ground-floor commercial space.

But under the Council’s amendments, the project would rise five stories and have 13 to 23 apartments, with three to six renting below market rate, according to City Planning.

An attorney representing the project, Paul Proulx, said it will move forward in its downsized state.

“We appreciate the Council member’s willingness to legalize the use in this predominantly residential area,” he said in a statement, alluding to the project’s location across the street from an industrial business zone.  “Her decision will have long-term benefits for the neighborhood.”

Hanif’s support ensures the rezoning modifications will be approved by the full Council, under its tradition of member deference.

In a statement, the first-term member said the original plan would have put “significant development pressure on a narrow stretch of Ninth Street with existing active industrial uses” and would have had more luxury housing. But cutting down that housing also slashed the number of affordable units.

“I deeply respect and support the push from many in our community to increase affordable housing — particularly deeply affordable housing — in our district,” she said. “I also recognize the concerns from the industrial business community about continued erosion of manufacturing space without industrial zoning protections and investments in the IBZ.”

The project site, however, is not in the industrial business zone.

City Planning also estimated that the potential redevelopment of a second site at 165-187 Ninth Street would be reduced from a project with 37 residential units, with nine affordable, to one with 12 apartments, of which four would be affordable.

Commission reps noted Monday that because many of the sites within the rezoning area are narrow, they would likely be redeveloped below the threshold that requires below-market units under the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing law. The affordability requirements apply to projects with more than 10 units or that have more than 12,500 square feet of residential space, and benefit from rezoning.

Council member Rafael Salamanca Jr., who chairs the Land Use Committee, said the reduction in density from a maximum residential floor-area-ratio to 2.2 from 4.6 was to “better reflect the [low-rise] character of this block.”

The changes underscore the pitfalls of relying on small, private rezoning proposals to beef up the city’s housing stock. Such applications are nearly always substantially reduced by the local Council member.

During Monday’s hearing, some members of the City Planning Commission voiced concern about the potential reduction of affordable housing units.

“Going from 13 affordable units to three – it’s a huge, missed opportunity when we need to try to generate more affordable units on private land,” said commissioner Leila Bozorg.

Chair Dan Garodnick agreed, saying the changes represented a significant loss “at a moment when we’re struggling at all fronts to put people in homes.”

The commission is scheduled to review the modifications Wednesday, but has little choice but to approve them because any other action would likely doom the project.

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