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Applicant for 962 Pacific spot rezoning proposes 27 deeply affordable units, not the requested 30, but gets Community Board 8 support. What will CM Hudson do?

After a convoluted process that required two votes, Brooklyn Community Board 8 on Sept. 14 endorsed the spot rezoning of the proposed 962 Pacific Street at a somewhat revised configuration from the Land Use Committee's request a week earlier.

That means a promise of 27 deeply affordable apartments rather than the requested 30—but more than the 15 that applicant HSN Realty had earlier offered at the Crown Heights site, just east of Grand Avenue, under the city's Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. 

The 27 units at 40% of Area Median Income (AMI) would rent, under current limits (which will rise), as follows: $848 for a studio, $1,059 for a one-bedroom, and $1,271 for a two-betroom. 

It was a not insubstantial gain for those seeking deeper affordable housing and homes for those at risk of displacement, while a once majority-Black area has become whiter and wealthier. 

Ultimately, it was also a victory for both HSN—there’s often slack in an applicant’s request--and some CB 8 leaders, who, rather than push back on HSN’s unwillingness to meet the Land Use Committee’s request, accepted the landowner’s response, comparing it to the potential alternative in the pending area-wide Atlantic Avenue Mixed-Use Plan.

Overall, while the applicant originally promised 25% affordability and the Land Use Committee requested 35%, the Board vote supported the applicant's revision to 32%.

Though the applicant's lawyer did question an amendment to the Board’s resolution—which sought to maintain affordability percentages if 962 Pacific, proposed at 150 units, gains more units (which is likely)—the principals seemed pleased with the outcome. 

After all, a change in zoning from low-rise manufacturing to mixed-use residential offers an enormous increase in land value.

The applicant also promised 5 units at 60% AMI and 16 units at 80% AMI--numbers derived in part from an unforced error at CB 8, described further below.

Future unclear

Big question marks remain. A Community Board vote is only advisory but typically influences the local Council Member.

First, will Council Member Crystal Hudson, who last year announced she’d oppose spot rezonings while the broader Atlantic Avenue Mixed-Use Plan (AAMUP) to rezone a larger area was pending, maintain her opposition, even if 962 Pacific would offer deeper affordability and other benefits beyond what the AAMUP Draft Guidelines would mandate?

Those promises regarding 962 Pacific would have to be locked down in a side agreement with Friends of Community Board 8 and/or nonprofit groups that may already be the applicant's business partner. Such agreements have been called Community Benefits Agreements, or CBAs, though such CBAs nationally typically have a far broader ambit and participation of more neutral parties.

Looking SE from Grand Ave. & Pacific St. toward vacant 962 Pacific parcel (Photos/Norman Oder)

The local Council Member, according to typical Council practice, holds sway over such spot rezonings and often negotiates further changes before passage. I queried Hudson's office but didn't get a response.

Second, is this plan even buildable? Though HSN lawyer Richard Lobel said their revised plan relied on conversations with potential lenders, it’s unclear if that assumes the return of the 421-a tax break (or an equivalent). Lobel had previously said no similar buildings were going up without it.

Pushing for more

The Land Use Committee a week earlier had refused to endorse HSN’s proposal: 38 affordable apartments averaging 60% of AMI, with 15 of them deeply affordable at 40% of AMI, which is $50,840 for a three-person household. The proposal also included 8 units at 60% of AMI and 15 at 80% of AMI.

That pushback was a surprise, since some key committee members were ready to accept HSN's plan, as was the nonprofit Fifth Avenue Committee, which had already signed on as the applicant's affordable housing partner.

The Land Use Committee, pushed by radicalized tenants in the Crown Heights Tenant Union, ultimately voted to seek not 38 but 53 affordable units: 30 deeply affordable apartments at 40% of AMI, plus 8 at 60% of AMI and 15 at 80% of AMI. The latter two tranches mirrored what the applicant had proposed.

From applicant HSN's response to Committee Resolution;
the actual numbers, in purple, were not transmitted to HSN
Property owner Nadine Oelsner said at the meeting they could maybe meet the 30-unit request and “get a few more,” which wasn’t a ringing endorsement.

Lobel promised a revised proposal before the full board meeting.

An unforced error

As circulated to Land Use Committee members before the meeting and shared at the meeting, that revised proposal promised 27 (not 30) units at 40% of AMI; 5 (not 8) at 60% of AMI; and 16 (not 15) at 80% of AMI. 

Though no one noticed--I didn't catch this until after the meeting--the applicant's response stated that the Land Use Committee resolution had earlier requested 5 units at 60% of AMI and 18 units at 80% of AMI. 

That wasn't the vote I witnessed, but the applicant's response wasn't inaccurate. Lobel, responding to my inquiry, stated that the "30/5/18 split was memorialized in the CB 8 resolutions drafted by the Community Board and forwarded to our offices on the morning of 9/11/23."

Indeed, it was--those same numbers appeared in a document shared with attendees at the full meeting--but how? Land Use Chair Sharon Wedderburn, responding to my query, acknowledged a typo in the resolution sent to HSN. (It's unclear how that happened.)

That enforced error could bolster the applicant's bottom line, since they only have to deliver the purportedly "requested" 5 units at 60% of AMI--which today is $76,260 for a family of three and $1,906 for a two-bedroom--rather than the 8 sought in the Committee's vote.

From a previous developer presentation, with an earlier affordable configuration and unit count

Other promises

As already agreed, the applicant agreed to map Option 3, the deep affordability option under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, and eliminate Option 2, which allows somewhat higher incomes.

2016 MIH fact sheet, updated with 2023 income levels for a 3-person household

The applicant again promised $50,000 in anti-displacement funds for a community-based organization, with half delivered upon approval of the rezoning, and half delivered after the building gets its Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, or TCO. The Committee resolution had sought $100,000.

Other aspects of the request, such as the set-aside of space for job-creating uses under CB 8’s M-CROWN plan, as well as the use of a nonprofit to vet tenants, had been proposed and agreed to by the applicant.
State Sen. Jabari Brisport speaking

A positive framing

The discussion of 962 Pacific occupied, overall, perhaps an hour of the meeting, which lasted some 2 hours and 40 minutes and held in a cavernous and acoustically challenging underground space, used for soccer, operated by Chelsea Piers under the 595 Dean complex.

It was “the first Community Board meeting held on astroturf,” quipped state Senator Jabari Brisport at one point.

Discussing the application, Wedderburn led off by offering kudos to Gib Veconi, who’s led the effort known as M-CROWN--CB 8's plan to transform areas shackled by outdated manufacturing zoning to allow new housing (including affordable units) and job-creating space--for nine years. 

“We’re consistent, and persistent” re M-CROWN, Wedderburn said, “and I’m going to say the same thing about the applicant.”

Describing the rezoning request, Wedderburn said, “they’d like to build housing, which is needed in our community.” At the previous meeting, she recounted, “many vociferous community members asked: ‘can you do more?’” And" to the credit of this applicant,” she said, they had responded. 

"We asked that they provide 30 units for incomes up to 40% of AMI, 5 units for incomes up to 60% of AMI, and 18 units up to 80% of AMI," Wedderburn said, referencing the "typo" version of the Committee resolution. She then described how the applicant responded with 27, 5, and 16 units respectively.

How much for anti-displacement?

“One of the things they’re also going to provide,” Wedderburn said—in an error that redounded to the applicant’s benefit—“they’re going to provide $100,000 to a local community-based organization for the purpose of providing anti-displacement services.” (That could include legal and organizing help for tenants facing eviction or landlord problems.) Some in the audience clapped.

“This is what we asked," she continued, "when are you going to provide the $100,000?” 

Without making an explicit correction, she shifted to the correct number: “They’re going to provide $50,000 of funding to a local community-based organization… $25,000 will be contributed after approval [and] $25,000 after the TCO,” or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, once the building has risen.

The applicant a week earlier had pledged $50,000, with the first payment after project approval. That was superior compared with other spot rezonings on Pacific Street, which delivered no anti-displacement funds. And it was, in one way. superior to two recent Atlantic Avenue rezonings, whose applicants (for larger buildings) last year each pledged $100,000, but only after the TCO. 

But the applicant had not met the Committee's $100,000 request.

The reason “this so important,” Wedderburn said, is that new housing pushes rents up, and “you need to support people who’ve been in the community a long time.”

Wedderburn then asked Veconi to read “the revised resolution.”

It asked CB 8 members to support the application with the conditions that reflected the applicant’s pledge. “This commitment represents 48 units in a building proposed at 150 [units],” noted Veconi.

That percentage, more than 30%, is not achievable in an area-wide rezoning, he noted, adding that the draft AAMUP guidelines would not provide for that level of affordability and also permit a larger, bulkier building. 

Some pushback

“What was read out was not the recommendation the committee made,” protested Land Use Committee member Sarah Lazur, a CHTU member. 

(Wedderburn said, in response to my query, that a Commitee member "can offer an amendment that essentially crafts a different proposal that is different from the Committee's recommendation following Robert's Rules." Indeed, later, an amendment was voted on that that modified the revised resolution, and that was voted on. But it's still unclear to me how the resolution was initially revised.)

None in the committee had been able to engage with the revised motion, added Mimi Mitchell, a CHTU member who’d pushed for more affordability. “We asked for 30 units” at 40% of AMI. (That's $50,840 for a three-person household.)

The average Black family in the area, Mitchell noted, neighborhood earns $50,000. “These are homes we’re looking at to house Black people in the neighborhood.”

Board Chair Irsa Weatherspoon, a fellow Black woman, interjected: “I just want to say something: this is not expressly for Black people.” (Indeed, there’s no racial set-aside, though community preference—half the units would go to residents in CB 8—advantages locals at risk of displacement.)

From the audience, Jay Ruiz, founder of the Brooklyn Bike Patrol and a fierce critic of residents he calls “the pilgrims,” interrupted, shouting, “Black people in the community, they’re pushing them out.”

Mitchell, citing the developer’s counter-offer of 27 units, said, “I don’t think it’s too bad, but I want to hear” what others say. 

How many apartments, after all?  

Mitchell, noting that the applicant had left the total number units unspecified, asked for clarification. After all, as Wedderburn had presciently observed at the previous meeting, the configuration of 962 Pacific—proposed as eschewing studios—was likely to change to enable more affordability. 

Lobel acknowledged the size and configuration could change. He stated that, while the original proposal assumed one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, “my understanding is the configuration is between ones and twos.” That implies more total units.

Oelsner didn’t confirm it. After saying the large lot posed challenges for an architect, she said the building would contain “ones, twos, and some threes… We’re trying to avoid studios.”

Only another direct question prompted an answer about total units. “We’re trying to work that out,” Oelsner said. “We might be a little more than 150.”

How much? “It’s unclear,” said architect Nick Liberis, who predicted it would “take a couple of months to lay everything out.”

“The only thing we can commit to is the number of [affordable] units at the minimum size that HPD wants, which is quite large,” he said.

That's debatable. Under the city’s Zoning Resolution, MIH units must be 400 square feet for a studio, 575 sf for a one-bedroom, 775 sf for a two-bedroom, and 950 sf for a three-bedroom, though they can be smaller as long as they match the size of market-rate units with the same bedroom count.

“Can you see the smoke?” shouted Ruiz. “I wanna talk about Underhill Avenue.” 

(There's a huge neighborhood conflict regarding turning Underhill Avenue into an open street--it's now a "bike boulevard"--and Veconi and the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council he has long led face resentment from who say it's taken away parking, diverted traffic, and slowed emergency vehicles. Similarly, as Patch reported, the Vanderbilt Avenue open street, which has pushed traffic to Washington Avenue, frustrates merchants there. These complex disputes were not addressed at the meeting, and Ruiz, after later lobbing insults at Veconi, was asked to stand down.)

Questions and discussion

Questions from the audience, including but not limited to CB 8 members, addressed not whether the deal matched the committee resolution but basic issues such as the definition of deep affordability and why the 962 Pacific lot was challenging. 

Perhaps that’s why Chair Weatherspoon, at one point, observed, “We want to avoid having the committee [discussion] in the board meeting.” Moreover, the huge space, large crowd, and packed agenda meant not everyone with an on-topic comment could speak or communicate with each other.

What, asked one questioner were, anti-displacement services? Jay Marcus of the nonprofit Fifth Avenue Committee said it involved legal services for those facing or at risk of eviction, and organizing tenants to know their rights and challenge landlords.

Though the resolution directs the anti-displacement funds to an unspecified nonprofit organization, Marcus spoke as if—as with the two Atlantic Avenue spot rezonings last year—the money would go to his group, the nonprofit that had already signed on as the applicant's affordable housing partner.

Kaja Kühl, a former Land Use Committee member, tried to offer some context. She said that she and others on the AAMUP Steering Committee weren’t happy with the recently released Draft Guidelines, and “there’s more work to be done.” That implied a push for more affordability.

Enforcing promises

Kühl warned about relying on promises. In one Atlantic Avenue rezoning last year, “we were talking about a developer that didn’t own the property,” she noted. “Now we’re talking about a property owner that’s not a developer.” HSN's Oelsner has said they're seeking a developer as partner and "pray" they'd retain control of the site.

Kühl noted that, according to the two CBAs negotiated last year, if an areawide rezoning proceeds without the development being vested via a construction start, the promises can be excised from the deed. That implies that, if the yet-to-be-negotiated agreement regarding 962 Pacific contains similar clauses, the promises might be moot.

“It’s fully in the applicant’s right to not do anything until a year from now or to sell the property,” she warned, “and then everything you’re discussing… is just meaningless.”

Lobel responded by referencing not last year’s agreements, but an earlier one, regarding a project known as Pacific Grand, which is being completed. The agreement is memorialized in the deed, he said, so the requirements would remain.

Similarly, in response to a question about CBA enforceability, Lobel again avoided last year’s rezonings but instead cited Pacific Grand, in which Friends of CB 8 was the signatory.

So the issue is the document's drafting.

The Fifth Avenue Committee’s Marcus said they hoped CB 8 will be a signatory of the 962 Pacific agreement, and that it would “definitely come back to the community board for review… We won’t sign it until we come back to you.” That would contrast with the 2022 agreements, which were announced at the last minute and kept under wraps for months.

The notion of an anti-displacement fund unnerved a Black woman in the audience named Lashawn, who commented that it implies a new development will displace people. “$100,000 to think about displacement in our community,” she said, referring to the initial number Wedderburn read, “that’s pennies,” given the loss of the “cultural and generational richness and dynamism of our community.” 

They were asked, she suggested, to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Keeping the percentages

After Veconi read the resolution, Mitchell offered an amendment, asking that the percentage of affordable units (32%) be maintained if the total number of units in the building increases.

Lobel protested. The 962 Pacific team had talked with three potential lenders, he said, and ”if it’s altered from this [proposal], I don’t think the project’s going to get built.” 

Veconi observed that it’s atypical to present a motion in terms of absolute numbers, but that specific numbers of affordable units had been requested the previous week by Mitchell, who was now amending the motion to a percentage. 

“They were acted on in good faith by the applicant,” he said. (Well, not completely, since HSN did not come clean about adding units until pressed.)

The motion to support the development stalled, perhaps because of the "lesser of two evils" comment. It got 17 yes votes, 7 no votes, and 11 abstentions. Some in the room were left a bit dumbfounded.

A second round

But it wasn't over. Later in the meeting, the board tried again, aiming to fulfill its role to offer guidance in the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which involves advisory opinions from the Community Board and Borough President, then votes by the City Planning Commission and City Council. “We don’t want to say we don’t have an opinion,” Wedderburn said.

Veconi asked if any of those abstaining would share their questions. Several shook their heads no. Only one responded, referencing the "two evils" comment.

The lot at issue, Veconi observed, lot would be redeveloped, either from this application or as part of AAMUP, and this would provide--at least compared to the area rezoning's draft guidelines--a smaller building with more affordable apartments, and at deeper affordability, and with space for job-creating uses.

(He had made a similar argument the previous week at the Land Use Committee, before other members sought more affordability. The issue, to them, was less the comparison with the area-wide rezoning but how much extra would be asked from HSN in exchange for letting the applicant get ahead of the larger rezoning.)

Lazur asked that the motion be rephrased as withholding support unless the developer fulfilled the required promises, since that might get Council Member Hudson to push further. That would send a message, she said, that “the community is not satisfied with what we’re getting” in AAMUP.

“If it was accepted into the resolution, would you vote for it,” Veconi asked. Lazur said yes.

This time, the galvanizing speaker before the vote, another Black nonmember, was in support. Peter, a Crown Heights man who previously asked about street lighting on his block, framed it as “Do you want 15 [deeply affordable units] or do you want 27? I think 27 is better…don’t fool yourself… wake up out of whatever dream you’re in and be quite realistic.”

This time the vote was 29-3, with only two abstentions. The applicant team looked pleased, despite Lobel’s earlier warning about how the project likely wouldn’t get built if affordable units were required to increase along with an overal unit count.

After all, HSN should find it easier to get a partner to develop the lot, or to sell it--at least if the rezoning passes City Council. 

So now it's up to Hudson--after the Borough President and City Planning Commission weigh in--and, perhaps, the drafters of the agreement that locks down the applicant's promises.

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