Downtown developments debated
When new projects are planned, who gets consulted?
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Apr 28, 2013 | 2420 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The old warehouse at the corner of Ninth Street and Brunswick Avenue.
The old warehouse at the corner of Ninth Street and Brunswick Avenue.
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The City Council has tabled two controversial downtown developments after community groups raised opposition to the density of the projects and parking concerns.

One project, at the corner of Ninth Street and Brunswick Avenue, would see the redevelopment of an old and vacant warehouse building. Another, at 280 Bright St., would lead to the development of workforce and affordable housing in a community has few such units available.

Despite the benefits, some community members have voiced opposition to the projects, arguing that they either were not properly informed of the planned development, or that their concerns have been overlooked by the developers.

Three weeks ago, the City Council introduced both projects and was last week slated to adopt them so they could break ground later this year. However, when community members – specifically those who live in the Van Vorst Park-area, near the proposed Bright Street development, and those around Hamilton Park, near Ninth and Brunswick – raised objections, both projects were unanimously tabled.

“There seems to be a pattern where the Planning Division comes to the council, and they present a development, and tell us there is no opposition in the community. Then we introduce it, and we get all these complaints from the community,” said Ward A City Councilman Michael Sottolano last week. “Why does this keep happening?”
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‘I guess the question is, who is the community?’ – Rolando Lavarro Jr.
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At the council’s caucus meeting on April 22, council members asked staffers from the Division of City Planning what the process is for alerting a neighborhood when a new development or development plan is proposed for an area of the city.

“I guess the question is, who is the community?” asked City Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr.

The community

There are 17 recognized neighborhood block associations on file at City Hall. As a general rule, when a new development or development plan is in the works, the association or associations most affected are contacted by either by a staffer in the Division of City Planning or possibly Rosemary McFadden, chief of staff to Mayor Healy.

But sometimes information within an organization might not be disseminated broadly enough, and not every neighborhood in the city has a recognized association to be contacted. Such gaps can leave residents blindsided when they hear that a new condo development will be built at the end of their block. And even with such organizations in place, some residents say they can be in for a surprise when they learn the details of the planned project.

Developer Eyan Schuster “knew the density zoning for this area before purchasing it,” resident Kirsten Greene, a member of the Pavonia Block Association, told the council last week. “He also knew that the community did not approve of a change in density when he met with full opposition to his plans at the Pavonia Block Association Meeting on October 15, 2012. When asked if the project was viable at the zoned 150 units, he told the community yes. When asked if he would build it without a zoning change, his answer was yes. After that, he approached the Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association meeting with a plan for 206 units. He still met with opposition to the increased density. And although he presented a plan for 204 units to that association, he moved forward and submitted a plan for 245 units to the planning board; 245 units is a significant increase from the 150 in the current zoning and one that is out of the norm for this family friendly neighborhood.”

Joan Kholar, treasurer of the Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association who has spoken in favor of the Ninth and Brunswick development at the last two council meetings, said, “You’re going to have some division of everything,” acknowledging that many people in the Hamilton Park community welcome Schuster’s plans for Ninth and Brunswick, but a few are concerned the development may change the character of the brownstone-lined neighborhood.

“We probably have hundreds of people who are on our e-mail list or who connect to us on Facebook,” Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association president Elna Mukaida, who also supports the project told the Reporter. “But we may only get 20 people at a meeting. You’d be surprised. A lot of people don’t come out. They don’t want to be that involved.

The council did not hold a public hearing on the Bright Street project. Council members have encouraged the developers and planners to go back and get more input from neighbors before re-introducing both plans.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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