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Bushwick rezoning request on DeKalb Avenue protested by community, councilman

City Councilman Rafael L Espinal Jr. said, as it stands now, he would not vote in favor of the rezoning application for 1601 DeKalb Ave.

Bushwick residents with Make the Road New York

Bushwick residents with Make the Road New York protested Thursday against a proposed residential tower on DeKalb Avenue. Photo Credit: Make the Road New York

A councilman representing Bushwick has ordered a building developer to go back to the drawing board with its request to turn a parking lot into a nine-story residential tower amid fierce opposition from residents.

Members of Make the Road New York, the Alliance for Tenant Power and other community stakeholders were joined by City Councilman Rafael L Espinal Jr. (37th District) Thursday morning during a protest over the proposed rezoning of 1601 DeKalb Ave., near Wyckoff Avenue.

The rezoning application submitted by Camber Property Group would convert the address and five nearby lots from manufacturing to residential use. But Espinal warned the developers that the request, as it stands now, would not be approved.

“So I ask the developers to withdraw their application as soon as possible,” the councilman said amid a roar of cheers from the crowd.

According to community advocates, the planned residential tower doesn’t offer enough affordable housing and the inclusion of nearby manufacturing lots that Camber Property Group does not own puts existing residents and businesses at risk of being pushed out of the neighborhood as the likelihood of more market-rate residential development increases substantially.

“Everything about this is bad,” said Jose Lopez, a Bushwick resident and organizing director with Make the Road New York.

The proposed tower would offer 122 luxury units, with 26 of them set aside for affordable housing. Lopez, however, argued what the city and the developer consider “affordable” is nowhere near realistic for Bushwick residents.

“These apartments are affordable for families of three earning just over 56,000 a year,” he said. “The average median income for our members is between $18,000 and $25,000.”

Lopez called the percent of units set aside for affordable housing “ridiculous,” and, “a slap in the face,” considering how much profit Camber Property Group stands to make in market-rate rents.

“We’re talking about single mothers with two kids working a minimum wage job, but not full time so their employer can dodge benefits,” Lopez said. “For them, affordability looks very different.”

A spokesman for Camber Property Group defended the proposal’s affordable housing options on Thursday, saying that only six of the 26 units would be listed for families of three making $56,340 a year. Another six units, according to the spokesman, would be available to a family of three bringing in $28,170 a year and the other 14 would fall somewhere in between.

“From the start of the public review process we’ve made clear that we’re eager to hear feedback from the community about our proposal,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement. “We’re looking forward to sitting down with Council Member Espinal and other local stakeholders to figure out a way forward on a project that will deliver affordable housing for the neighborhood along with local and MWBE hiring opportunities and good-paying union jobs.”

Espinal said at the protest he would be open to considering a revised rezoning plan that had community support, but it’s unlikely that would happen regardless of what the developers came up with, according to Lopez.

“It’s too late in the process for the developer to engage us,” he said.

Protesters also called on city officials to stop considering private rezoning applications in Bushwick because it risks dismantling the work being done by the Bushwick Community Planning Process.

The community planning process has been working for the past three years on determining guidelines for what should be considered fair and equitable rezoning, according to Lopez.

“If we’ve created a process that works for the community, we should honor that process,” he said. “We should be waiting for that plan before making any future plans.”

While Camber Property Group said it would work with the community moving forward, it was unclear if the company intended to submit a revised rezoning request.

The existing proposal was already voted down — 30-1 — by Community Board 4, but the board’s vote is considered advisory and not binding. Borough President Eric Adams is expected to issue a recommendation in the coming week or so, but the real test will come when the proposal gets in front of the City Planning Commission within the next few months.

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