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Greenpoint – Williamsburg: After the Rezoning

greenpoint williamsburg garage

The rezoning of Greenpoint-Williamsburg is complete and the transformation of north Brooklyn’s waterfront can begin. The scale of the rezoning plan is immense – covering 180 blocks and altering the Brooklyn waterfront along a distance equivalent to Canal to 34th Streets. The plan will transform an industrial area with new high-rise housing and a 1.6 mile waterfront esplanade. What is eventually built could set a precedent for waterfront development throughout New York City.

The MAS is proud to have collaborated with Council members, the community and many civic organizations to create a better plan for Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Perhaps the most significant change concerns affordable housing. The final plan increases developer incentives to construct affordable housing by restricting tax benefits and reducing the scale developers can build ‘as-of-right’ without using the affordable bonus. While housing advocates would have preferred a mandatory plan, the approved zoning represents significant improvement from the original proposal.

The final deal for parks represents real progress on three fronts: the esplanade, new parks and McCarren Park. Under the original proposal, the waterfront would have been built, maintained and owned by as many as 11 private developers. The community successfully argued that a private waterfront in Brooklyn would suffer from the same problems of other private waterfronts in the region: restricted access, particularly after dark; lingering gaps in the esplanade; and an unimaginative program of uses that fails to attract people to the water. The city’s ultimate goal is now to ensure the waterfront is eventually in public hands and requiring evening access is on the table. Funding of up to $30 million will restore McCarren Park, increase total parks by up to 5 acres, and give developers a financial incentive to make their part of the esplanade public.

Up to 1,500 manufacturing jobs were also threatened in the original plan, which permitted housing in several industrial areas. This has historically led to rising rents, which often force companies to relocate. Responding to vigorous advocacy, the city established both a fund to assist relocating companies as well as a fund for acquisition and renovation of manufacturing buildings. The city also pledged to study the active industry east of Bushwick Inlet for possible future action to increase manufacturing density.

Two aspects of the city’s plan with heavy impacts on neighborhood character remain unchanged. The proposed scale of development along the waterfront – towers of up to 40 stories – is still much larger than the existing three- to five-story neighborhood. The city’s plan also fails to address the protection of the neighborhood’s historic resources, only identifying 18 significant structures. Members of the MAS Preservation Committee and local residents surveyed the rezoning area and identified 264 more buildings worthy of protection. We continue to advocate for a comprehensive plan to protect the neighborhoods’ significant buildings, including the distinctive Greenpoint Terminal Market. The Landmarks Preservation Commission took a positive first step by calendaring for designation one of the most significant buildings on the waterfront, designer Cass Gilbert’s Austin Nichols Warehouse. MAS Preservation Committee and staff have worked with community members to compile a list of the significant buildings and historic districts in the area.

Although there is still progress to be made, there is much cause for optimism about Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s future. The MAS will continue its partnership with the community, civic organizations and the City in the phases of design and implementation. We will encourage the expansion of a vibrant community that welcomes residents of all incomes, opens its arms to the East River, embraces its historic character and remains a vital source of jobs for New York City.