home feature story archive
feedback featured voices about the series
Transforming the Waterfront

On May 11, 2005, New York's City Council voted to rezone a major portion of North Brooklyn's old industrial waterfront. It's an area nearly half the size of Central Park, stretching along two miles of the East River waterfront. Today this land is largely deserted, but in a few years it will be occupied by 54 acres of new parkland, a public esplanade along the river, and apartment towers rising 40 stories.

Illustration of the proposed Brooklyn waterfront
The plan is being hailed as the crowning achievement in the Bloomberg Administration's successful push to transform New York's underused shoreline. But some community activists are unhappy about the scale of the new development. Beka Economopoulos, who led a May 2 protest on the steps of City Hall, objects in particular to the 40 story towers permitted along the waterfront. "We are a three to five story neighborhood 40 stories is too big. We are not Manhattan we are Brooklyn."

The Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning also includes a controversial set of rules that will result in private developers reserving about one-third of all new homes for low- and middle-income tenants. Under an arrangement called "inclusionary zoning," developers who include affordable housing in their plans will be allowed to put up buildings that are about one-third larger than what market rate developers can build in the area. They'll also get a 25-year tax abatement, while if they only build market-rate apartments they won't get the 15-year tax abatement generally given to all new buildings outside of Manhattan. Finally, developers on this site can also take advantage of the affordable housing subsidy programs that are part of the Bloomberg Admistration's $3 billion initiative to build 65,000 units of affordable housing over 5 years.

The rezoning plan includes incentives for manufacturing companes and organized labor. It provides $20 million as seed money for new factories, and $4 million to help existing companies on the site relocate. Plus the five developers who already own about 70% of the rezoned site struck a deal with the building employee's union to pay Manhattan-scale wages in the new buildings they put up.

Brooklyn waterfront
Julia Vitullo-Martin of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Rethinking Development sees the rezoning plan as a major achievement by the Bloomberg Administration, but she objects to the incentives being used to get private developers to build affordable housing units. Vitullo-Martin sees inclusionary zoning as effectively an entry tax on new construction that contributes to the larger problems that make New York City housing so expensive at all ends of the market. As she told NY VOICES' Rafael Pi Roman:

A tremendous amount of energy from housing advocates has gone into trying to increase the supply of subsidized housing. I would greatly prefer to see the fundamental set of issues facing New York dealt with ... We have a 30-year-old huge cumbersome impossible to understand building code ... we have a lot of difficult and onerous labor policies ... we have very expensive land costs. And we have a very cumbersome regulatory system.
Councilmember David Yassky originally opposed the Bloomberg Administration's rezoning plan because it didn't provide enough incentives for affordable housing. But Yassky is happy with the final version of the bill. "I support the plan wholeheartedly as it has finally evolved because 33%, or fully a third of the apartments to be built here, will be affordable to lower income and middle income families."

Yassky believes that using zoning as a tool to push developers to build affordable housing is an effective way of helping those who've been priced out by Brooklyn's hot real estate market. "The market left to its own devices just will not create the $1,000 a month two-bedroom, the $250,000 sale price two-bedroom apartment that a family needs."

Send Us Your Feedback!
Watch the Video
Transforming the Waterfront
A look at the rezoning of the Greenpoint- Williamsburg waterfront.
View this story
View this storyInterview: Julia Vitullo-Martin
The director of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Rethinking Development, who is a critic of inclusionary zoning.
Interview: David Yassky
The Brooklyn city councilmember who fought for stronger incentives for affordable housing on the waterfront.
View this story
View the Video Gallery
Thirteen WNET New York