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CM Hudson, maintaining stance that proposed 962 Pacific spot rezoning should wait for neighborhood rezoning, votes it down. Can she deliver with AAMUP?

She stuck to her position.

Council Member Crystal Hudson yesterday gave the thumbs down to the proposed spot rezoning of 962 Pacific Street in Crown Heights, where the longtime landowner, Nadine Oelsner's HSN Realty, sought to build a 150-unit building, with more affordability than in nearby private rezonings, on an empty lot.

Looking SE from Grand Ave. & Pacific St. toward
vacant 962 Pacific parcel (Photo: Norman Oder)
In doing so, Hudson maintained her longstanding--if not so loud--opposition to a spot rezoning that would come ahead of the more comprehensive Atlantic Avenue Mixed-Use Plan (AAMUP), which would ultimately enable housing at the 962 Pacific site and deliver other neighborhood improvements.

Her opposition was reflected in votes (video here) against the rezoning yesterday at the City Council's Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, and later at the Land Use Committee, as Council Members typically defer to the local representative.

Bucking a tide

The 962 Pacific proposal had been endorsed by Brooklyn Community Board 8, at least if the developer committed to 32% affordability, and approved by the City Planning Commission.

Hudson's opposition reflected not just her desire to credit future neighborhood changes to AAMUP, but also the gauntlet she threw down early in her tenure: after eight spot rezonings nearby, two of which were held over into her term, she wanted no more.

As her land use staffer Andrew Wright explained at one CB 8 meeting, not only does a private rezoning absorb limited resources from the Department of City Planning, the neighborhood rezoning would provide holistically for development.

From a previous developer presentation, with an earlier affordable configuration

Hudson might have been able to justify approval of the 962 Pacific proposal had she negotiated even more from the developer, which stood to gain from a huge increase in value.

After all, she had approved the two 2022 spot rezonings, 870-888 Atlantic Ave. and 1034-1042 Atlantic Ave., after getting commitments of 35% affordable housing from the developers. At the same time, she got the city to agree to the neighborhood study.

But there also might have been some clout-claiming at stake: in the case of 962 Pacific, Hudson had told long told the developer not to proceed, but was ignored.

Her position was counter to two neighborhood figures who are typically allies, and whom she appointed to the AAMUP Steering Committee: Michelle de la Uz of the nonprofit Fifth Avenue Committee and Gib Veconi, architect of CB 8's M-CROWN rezoning proposal, a precursor to AAMUP.

Both previously testified that the 962 Pacific plan would have more and deeper affordability that the currently proposed AAMUP; Veconi cited more job-creating space. Now Hudson will face pressure to improve AAMUP guidelines and/or ensure that the rezoning delivers more to neighbors. 

Developer's option

What next for the developer, which has borrowed $11.5 million based on this site and another property? (Expect some comments in the real-estate press.)

At CB 8's Land Use Committee meeting (video) Dec. 1, 2022, attorney Richard Lobel stated, "We have been in in constant communication with Council Member Hudson and she's made it very clear to us that she does not support private rezonings."

"And we have made it very clear that we've got no choice because, frankly, if this rezoning doesn't happen," he continued, "the property gets purchased probably by an institutional lender or some other property owner and the most likely scenario involves" it becoming a last-mile distribution center for deliveries, given the current manufacturing zoning.

That, he warned, would involve lots of truck traffic "going down Pacific at all times of day and night." 

Today, that's less likely, given the cost of setting up such a distribution center for a relatively short time, even as AAMUP proceeds.

More recently, Oelsner told the Real Deal, “If this project gets in the hands of another big developer, they’re not going to have the thoughtfulness to give back."

Well, developers aren't altruists, and the Oelsners were/are likely to partner with or sell to another developer, so, as I wrote, that makes city requirements key.

One question is whether the site was, in fact, shovel-ready, as the developers had claimed. The uncertainties include high interest rates and the absence of the 421-a tax break, for which various successors have been proposed but not yet passed.
"Terrible move by @CMCrystalHudson—people don’t live in envisioning sessions. This is essentially delaying a project by at least a year," tweeted Will Thomas, an upzoning proponent and former Executive Director of Open New York. He acknowledged that progress would've depended on a state replacement of 421-a.

At the subcommittee

Council Member Kevin Riley, Chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, led off by reading testimony that reflected Hudson's stance: "The important issue before the subcommittee today is why an individual project application should be allowed to bypass an ongoing comprehensive planning process that is in the final stages."

Neighborhood plans, he noted, help ensure adequate open space, safe pedestrian circulation, needed infrastructure, and economic development. 

Without "intentional targeted efforts to ensure that local residents can afford the new housing built, longstanding residents are pushed out," Riley said. (The developers might have countered that their proposal could address that, as well as jobs, even though it couldn't address larger issues.)

"Let us rezone this development site as part of the ongoing comprehensive plan in a few short months," he said, "and protect the integrity of the city's planning process."

Hudson's case

"Disapproving this project," Hudson said in her remarks, "is not a vote against housing and new development... In my view, it's more effective to focus on an overall plan that is going to provide over 1,200 affordable homes than allowing individual projects to spring up here in there in an uncoordinated, unplanned way."

"The applicant claimed during the public hearing that the planning for this neighborhood has dragged on for years, and that they should not be made to wait any longer, which I find to be disingenuous," she said. 

From the applicant's perspective, they'd met with the Department of City Planning before Hudson took office. 

From Hudson's perspective, after she entered office in January 2022, she soon advocated for a comprehensive plan and--after approving the two spot rezonings that started before she took office--stated she'd no longer support individual applicants.

"The other argument the applicant made at the hearing that I would like to address is that the proposed development project is consistent with"--actually, better than--"the draft rezoning proposal, and therefore the applicant's proposal should be approved," she said. "This is a presumptuous argument."

Her point: AAMUP is not finished. "The applicant is effectively trying to cut short this process and lock in its development project," she said.

The counter-argument, as de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee (which has partnered with the developer) previously said, it's unlikely that the rezoning would deliver more affordability than the 962 Pacific developers agreed to.

No surprise

Hudson said her position "should not come as a surprise to the applicant. I've been very consistent from the start of this comprehensive planning process that the piecemeal redevelopment of this area cannot continue."

She cited multiple instances in which she made her position known, including at AAMUP Working Group sessions that the applicant attended. 

"In fact." she said, "a community board member, Gib Veconi, stated at a CB 8 meeting that 'It is true that the Council Member has stated that it's not preferable to have additional private applications.'" (It is also true that Veconi had supported this spot rezoning.)

"And the bottom line," Hudson said, "is that this applicant has known about my position since the moment it brought the project to my attention."