East New Yorkers Mull Plan for Affordable Housing, Supermarket on Burned-Out Factory Site

The audience listens as a question is asked at the Coalition for Community Advancement Meeting.

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One of the first major changes East New Yorkers are likely to see as a result of the controversial 2016 rezoning of the neighborhood is 1,200 affordable apartments and a supermarket sprouting on the site of a burned-out factory.

The former Blue Ridge Farms food processing plant at 3301 Atlantic Avenue, once one of the largest food processing factories in the city, burned in 2012, a blow to the community.

The new owner, nonprofit affordable housing developer Phipps Houses, bought the property in 2015 for $36 million. The project, still in the planning stages, will be 100 percent affordable.

Phipps Houses is considering three buildings up to 14 stories, built in three phases, with room for a supermarket and 300 parking spaces, Robert Santiago, executive director of Highland Park Community Development Corporation, told attendees at a community group meeting Tuesday. Although no building permits have yet been filed, Phipps Houses hopes to break ground in June. Move-ins could occur two years later.

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Robert Santiago, Executive Director of the Highland Park Community Development Corporation, addresses the audience. Photo by Sean Devlin.

The meeting, titled “Protect East New York,” was organized by the Coalition for Community Advancement, an umbrella group whose members include Highland Park Community Development Corporation, among other local groups and residents. The meeting was convened to give locals a voice in neighborhood change following the rezoning.

About 40 people attended, and various members of the coalition spoke about how the rezoning could affect East New York residents.

In a meeting room at United Community Centers on New Lots Avenue, leaders spoke about what can be done to ensure that East New Yorkers are not forced to leave the neighborhood due to gentrification.

The group said it intends to work with local government representatives, particularly City Council members Rafael Espinal and Inez Barron, to ensure the Blue Ridge Farms project and its rents and income levels meet the needs of local residents.

The East New York community is going through a major time of change after the City Council’s 45-to-1 decision to rezone the neighborhood.

“This committee came together as a pure reaction to the rezoning. We want to make sure that with this change, there’s an investment in the community, along with a financial one,” said Roy Frias, a member of the coalition, at the meeting.

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Homes in East New York. Photo by Edrei Rodriguez

The Coalition for Community Advancement was founded in 2015 to give locals a say in the rezoning. The biggest concerns about its effects center on affordable housing, jobs and infrastructure, such as schools.

The rezoning allows developers to build taller and larger buildings in exchange for including affordable housing, and the whole project is intended to spur economic growth in the area. City officials claim it’ll bring nearly 7,000 jobs to the vicinity. It will also increase population density in the neighborhood, sparking concerns that infrastructure that is already lacking will continue to lag behind.

“We need to make sure that any changes serve the community from the bottom up,” said Bill Wilkins, director of economic development at the Local Development Corporation of East New York.

However, the rezoning didn’t happen without a fight. East New Yorkers were largely skeptical of the plan, voicing opposition to the plan’s outline to increase residential density and the potential gentrification and displacement that could come with it.

The meeting Tuesday night had an overall calm, unified tone, celebrating the victories that the coalition has had in the past and what they plan to do going forward. Ana Aguirre, executive director of United Community Centers and leader of the meeting, talked about the need for increased awareness of the issues, alongside some positives that the community had produced following the rezoning, including a campaign to take down signs advertising real estate entities viewed as predatory.

“We have courage. We have power. We are here,” said Aguirre of her community.

“If people believe East New York is the most affordable place in Brooklyn, then where do we go next?” she continued.

east new york rezoning community meeting

Ana Aguirre, Executive Director of United Community Centers, addresses the audience. Photo by Sean Devlin

Also in the works, partly thanks to the coalition’s advocacy, is a school for more than 1,000 students — potentially K-8 — next door to the affordable housing development, at 3269 Atlantic Avenue. The target opening date is fall 2020.

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The former Blue Ridge Farms location after the 2012 fire. Photo via Google

The coalition’s next meeting is scheduled for February 9.

“What is clear is that what is coming will change East New York forever,” Aguirre said.

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