ATTENTION CB5 RESIDENTS!: Whatever your opinion on the matter, your voice matters. If you didn't get a chance to comment on the Ridgewood rezoning that will decide whether this luxury apartment development will replace current industrial zoning, you can email your opinion to the community board at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to the most recent update we've received from representatives of CB5, the next public meeting on the Ridgewood Rezoning will be April 7 (we will post updates as they become available).
**LAST UPDATED 3/26/2014***
The owner of 176 Woodward, a Ridgewood property, plans on cashing in on New York's affordable housing shortage with luxury housing that requires the rezoning, and fundamental reshaping, of an area just under two blocks. While the planned rezoning will affect a small industrial area, the luxury housing it stands to bring will likely mean rent increases in the area as a whole, an eventual increase in property taxes for smaller owners (thus pushing rents to even more unaffordable heights) and ultimately spell the end of one of New York City's most inter-cultural, affordable housing hubs.
At a March 12 CB5 meeting that included public comment on the rezoning, quite a few neighbors from around Ridgewood, Glendale and Middle Village were taken aback by a concerted effort from developers to push through a rezoning that could mean a further attack on the job-creating light-industrial zones of Queens and Brooklyn.
One attendee, and a neighbor who lives near the would-be luxury housing site, called it a "a joke... just a show...," further asking us to only list her as Martha, fearing any possible retaliation from the property owner or the pro-developer group that aggressively tried to overpower and at one point even shout over opposition at the hearing.
With $20gs in lobbying power from one of the cities most connected lobbyists, the pro-business Driscoll Group, there's little to no surprise in the aggression and coordination that appears to have been prepared by the owner of the site, the developer and their well-coached supporters.
"Dan" who also feared retribution if we used his name, told us he asked for copies of the potential construction and what the developer was promising. He was asked "are you a member of the media?" When "Dan" replied that he wasn't, he was summarily dismissed by the developer.
If you didn't know beforehand it would be easy for anyone to get the impression you were not intended to find out at this meeting.
WHO KNEW? VERY FEW
Outside Christ the King High School where the meeting was scheduled, there were no visible signs as to where to go for the public hearing or that there even was one going on.
Numerous attendees complained about transparency and accessibility issues, saying they had only found out about it online in the previous 72 hours.
The Community Board, to its credit, told one of our editors that it will have a website or page up by the end of the year.
The pro-developer group had no such trouble finding the site, and construction workers, landlords and developers could be seen strategizing, catching up and joking with each other a full 20 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start--at which point most members of the vocal opposition were still wandering around the campus of Christ the King without a single sign indicating where this meeting was or how one could get there.
Once attendees found a side-path through the day care center, around a staircase, through another hallway and into a cafeteria (not a single sign along the way) they were greeted with plenty of literature about a fundraising walk, a family crisis nonprofit, a local effort to check for a deadly pest--- and absolutely nothing, not a single piece of literature, about the development.
The pdf describing the zoning requested was, alone, over 140 pages long online and yet the only the thing the developers and the architects offered attendees of the public hearing were stand-alone placards, to be shown to the community at a distance (and smartly tucked away after the presentation).
In our canvas of local residents, out of 45+ interviewed, none had read even one of the 140 pages describing the rezoning. This made a lot of sense once we realized that out of this representative sample of Ridgewood residents not a single one had even heard that a part of Ridgewood might be rezoned to make room for luxury housing.
In a city where community boards are supposed to serve as a direct, local representative of local interest--not a single resident we interviewed on the streets of Ridgewood had even heard of what the community board was doing.
Furthermore, to our knowledge, and to the knowledge of the several attendees we also interviewed for this piece, nothing was made available to describe the project, the ULURP process or even simple basic information on where folks can state their opinion to the Community Board, its appropriate subcommittees or the appropriate public official.
An email address (listed above) was eventually suggested to the audience as the place where they should send their opinion to be noted by the community board. Councilman Reynoso also sent representatives who asked that they call in (718-963-3141)or send their opinions to his office.
About ten minutes before the meeting was set to begin, a gentleman from the developer group walked different supporters around to different sections of the cafeteria momentarily creating a well-coordinated impression of a community that just happened to come together (at a public hearing virtually none of CB5's tens of thousand of residents had heard of) in support of a project that would not only push out some of the last light-industrial opportunities in New York, but would also price out a majority of the current renters near the site.
The pro-developer group seemed especially well-informed of both what to expect and how to make themselves appear as the majority of the community. Their talking points included, on several occasions, some of the same points down to the phrase, and in fact the first group that signed up to speak was visibly communicating with members of the development team at multiple points during the meeting, but especially as it wound down.
At the meeting the pro-development group of speakers sat together within whispering distance from the developers and architect themselves.
When the list to speak at the public hearing was offered they lined up, at least four lined up together, in a row, giving an immediately-commented impression that this was a "set up" (as one elderly couple put it) to make it look like majority of the community to be impacted by this zoning had spontaneously shown up to unleash this high-priced project on itself.
In fact, outside of the pro-development speakers who sometimes gave the impression of having been pre-coordinated, several speakers our reporters counted had some hesitation about the project.
Meanwhile when several members of the audience protested they hadn't heard the call to sign up to speak, nor had they seen the sheet, they were told "to be quiet or leave," by a community board representative.
Among the suspect supporters was a speaker from the newly-arrived Bushwick Film Festival (the festival is barely in it seventh year in 2014) who admitted--while at the speaker's podium, in fact--that part of the reason she had decided to support the project is that the festival had been promised use of one of the building's rooms for their activities in the future if the project were to be approved.
Rather strangely, this same speaker also said $2000/month apartments were "affordable" in a community where many depend on a minimum wage that pays a full-time worker significantly less that that amount per month after taxes.
A member of the pro-development team walks up to begin stating his case before a well-attended community board meeting.
Another situation was what several attendees considered an underquote of what rents would cost in the luxury building---with representative for the developer adding that ever-so-important caveat "depending on financing."
With an $18 million construction price-tag, and given this owner and lobbyist's history, Ridgewood residents might have good reason to fear they will soon be priced out of the very community they have built up.
---additional reporting by F Reyes