De Blasio Zoning Plan Will Bring Mucho Affordable Housing to Brooklyn Mega Projects

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    Mayor Bill de Blasio is about to announce a major initiative requiring developers to build affordable housing in exchange for exceptions to zoning requirements, according to a story in Capital NY. This will have a significant impact on affordable housing and development in Brooklyn — including several developments already in the works.

    What This Means
    The new plan is a type of “mandatory inclusionary zoning” that applies only to private rezonings, aka a “spot rezoning.” The new requirement will mean that any time a developer asks the city to approve an exemption to the existing zoning for residential construction on a specific site — as developer Fortis is currently requesting for its planned towers at Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill — 25 to 30 percent of their units must be set aside for affordable housing.

    In many ways, the plan is codifying — and standardizing — a practice the de Blasio administration has already been aggressively pursuing on an individual, case-by-case basis.
    gownaus-green-rend-080615

    A rendering for the proposed Gowanus Green development on the banks of the Gowanus. Rendering via Gowanus Green.

    How It Works
    The mayor’s plan will standardize the amount and type of affordable housing required. The Department of City Planning and the City Council will assign developers one of two options, according to Capital NY:

    • Option 1: 25 percent of units are rented to people earning 60 percent of the Area Median Income — roughly $46,620 for a three-person family.
    • Option 2: 30 percent of units are rented to people earning 80 percent of the Area Median Income — roughly $62,150 for a three-person family.

    How It Will Affect Development in Brooklyn
    The new rules will mostly affect large developments, since a rezoning is an arduous undertaking requiring at least a year-long formal public process known as ULURP. Small developers tend to work within existing zoning.

    There are at least three developments in the works that will need a rezoning:

    • Rabsky’s 700-plus units at 249 and 334 Wallabout Street in the Broadway Triangle.
    • Fortis’ Long Island College Hospital site in Cobble Hill.
    • Gowanus Green, where Hudson Companies, Jonathan Rose and others plan more than 750 units.

    It’s hard to say whether the new plan will deliver more units of affordable housing and at lower prices than what the Mayor or past admininstrations would have been able to negotiate on an individual, case-by-case basis. (It’s certainly better than the 20 percent standard tied to the 421-a tax break, but that’s not for rezonings.) Here are two examples that show why:

    In the case of Atlantic Yards, for example, which was negotiated well before the current rules, the percentage of affordable housing is 35 percent, which is more than is required under the new plan. But the units are much more expensive because the percent of Area Median Income is much higher — 112 percent of AMI, according to the Atlantic Yards Report.

    The new rules could potentially have a huge effect on any rezoning of Long Island College Hospital (LICH). Developer Fortis is offering two options.

    If Fortis goes ahead with its “as of right” plan for LICH (permitted under existing zoning), it will build 400 apartments in towers as high as 44 stories with no affordable housing at all. Its second proposal, which does require a rezoning, is to build 820 apartments with 220 below-market units in towers as high as 40 stories and lots of community amenities.

    Under the mayor’s new plan, Fortis could actually decrease the number of affordable units from 220 to 205, but the developer would have to aim them at families making 60 percent of the Area Median Income. Alternatively, Fortis could increase the number of affordable units from 220 to 246, and woo renters paying much higher rates (at 80 percent of the Area Median Income).

    Fortis has not yet released specifics about its AMI plans — typically, these come later in the process, after building plans have been filed and approved — but it’s likely the Mayor’s plan would be in the rough ballpark or better than what Fortis would offer voluntarily.

    The Upshot
    Whether or not the mayor’s new plan produces more units of affordable housing or more inexpensive units, it should still have a positive effect on affordable housing in Brooklyn. It should make the process easier for all parties, and more fair, because everything is spelled out from the beginning and consistent in all cases. It also puts into place a process that will outlive the current mayor, even if future administrations have different priorities.

    Why Domino, Pier 6, And Altantic Yards Won’t Be Affected
    Most of the mega-projects currently under way in Brooklyn required a zoning change: Greenpoint Landing, Domino, Rheingold Brewery, Lightstone and, of course, the biggest and most contentious of all, Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. But they will be unaffected by any new rules because the rezonings already happened.

    In the case of the Domino redevelopment, the administration met privately with the developers to request additional affordable housing be included in the projects. As readers may recall, Domino developer Two Trees was already planning to include an unusually large amount of affordable housing, but promised to devote even more square footage to it, and made other adjustments as well, such as stepping up the timetable to build the affordable units first.

    On Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, where two controversial towers are in the works, the mayor requested affordable housing where none was previously planned. Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. readily agreed, resulting in a lawsuit.

    That was settled and now a public hearing process is under way to modify the park’s General Project Plan to permit affordable units in the park. (The park’s plan previously required all housing in the park to generate revenue to support the park operations.)

    Even in the case of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, in the works for years, the city renegotiated new terms in an attempt to speed up the delivery of affordable units.

    What the Plan Isn’t
    The mayor has many affordable housing initiatives. This is one piece that would affect only one-off projects whose developers seek a waiver, aka a spot rezoning.

    It’s not a city-led rezoning of an entire area, such as East New York. It’s not a change to the zoning code to permit taller buildings throughout the city. (Both of those are also in the works, as we have been reporting extensively.)

    Mayor de Blasio also plans mandatory inclusionary zoning for city-led rezonings of entire areas, which should bring a much bigger number of affordable housing units than spot rezonings. The mayor has said he hopes, city wide, all mandatory inclusionary zoning will result in an additional 50,000 affordable units by 2024.

    More reading:

    De Blasio Plan Would Link Affordable Housing, Rezoning [Capital NY]
    AY Affordable Housing More Costly Than De Blasio’s Proposal [AYR]
    Zoning Coverage [Brownstoner]
    Affordable Housing Coverage [Brownstoner]
    Top photo of de Blasio by Kevin Case via Flickr

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    A rendering for the proposed development at LICH. Rendering via Curbed.

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