River Ring Board Approved
But with conditions
One of the more controversial proposals before Brooklyn Community Board 1 (CB1) is Two Trees River Ring project. CB1 held three nights of public hearings: the third of which began on September 15th and ended after midnight due to a marathon six-hour session culminating in a dramatic “Yes with conditions” approval. River Ring is planned to include two tall residential towers with open space, river access, a new YMCA, and 1050 apartments 25% of the apartments would be affordable some of which would be “deeply affordable”. Deeply affordable is defined as 236 units will be priced at 60% of the area’s median income (AMI) pricing at this level would be $909 for a studio to $1,366 for a one-bedroom. 27 units would be priced even lower at 40% AMI.
Many at the CB1 meeting pushed for a “No with conditions” vote or against the proposal in favor of a smaller building with more affordable units. Susan Albrecht, a 30-year North Brooklyn resident and former CB1 member said, “At almost 60 stories the building is too big and out of context with the neighborhood. It is too dense and almost 20-stories taller than any of the other towers on the waterfront. It will make our already congested and crowded neighborhood unbearable and put a complete strain on our fragile resources and infrastructure. As Assembly Woman Gallagher mentioned rezoning proposals like this make developers very, very rich in terms of the profits they will make from luxury units and their tax exemptions. That is the outcome. The givebacks to the community in terms of open space and affordable units need to be much, much higher. … The developer can do better. Please, please vote no.”
NYS Senator Brian Kavanagh expressed displeasure that Two Trees had not yet rented out 66 affordable units at 80% AMI at One South 1st Street as agreed. He said, “We believe that Two Trees could live up to its promises for affordability. And just personally, I believe it’s really a tragedy that those units remain unoccupied for years now.”
Advocates ranged from those who pushed for more affordability to those who sought a smaller building with no residential at all. “We were speaking on behalf of a coalition including St. Nicks Alliance, Southside United HDFC – Los Sures, and El Puente who sent a letter to CB1 seeking more affordable housing specifically to low-income people expanding job success and environmental justice,” said Michael Rochford, executive director of St. Nicks Alliance. They were joined by North Brooklyn Neighbors which sought 40% AMI affordable housing.
After CB1 voted “Yes with conditions”, the next step in the process was the Brooklyn Borough President’s ULURP hearing held on September 27. After a presentation of the project, Bonnie Campbell, a principal at Two Trees Management Company, addressed the conditions that were offered by Brooklyn Community Board 1. She stated that Two Trees is definitely open to discussing an increase of the affordable units at River Ring, “while we can’t likely get to 50% affordable, we heard loud and clear that the community wants more than the 263 units that we were proposing. I also just want to note that we are one of the few if not the only developer that is opting into … 25% at the lowest AMIs in the mandatory inclusionary program.”
That compromise could expand the number of affordable units at the site.
On how Two Trees would approach the other conditions, Campbell offered they were: open to discussing more family size units, will absolutely commit to the minimum bedroom size, they’ll advocate for the completion of Bushwick Inlet Park, they are committed to striving toward carbon neutrality, will work with city planning concerning the façade’s ability to work in aesthetically with the surroundings, etc. One condition Campbell stated they couldn’t partially meet was the request to reduce the size of the project by 33%, “as that would render the project not economically feasible, and it would impede our ability to deliver on some of the other conditions.”
Campbell also announced that another of Two Trees’s buildings, One South 1st Street would be accepting applications via https://housingconnect.nyc.gov in six to eight weeks. This is the first condition listed. The issue was resolved this week after two years of negotiations with the City.
Affordable housing advocates are standing their ground on conditions that will increase opportunities for the community. “While we understand concerns about height and density, creating deeply affordable housing, underwriting improvements to the environment, and creating jobs is a greater priority concern for the community. Community Board 1 has set a condition of 50% affordable of the units to be developed. We demand that these units be available to residents with incomes of 40% AMI. Most of the current inclusionary units are at the 80%-120% AMI and too often are filled by rising young professionals who have far more housing options, and we have an opportunity to address this critical flaw in the 421A incentive. We also ask that these affordable units be made affordable in perpetuity,” stated Jose Leon, Dep. Executive Director, St. Nicks Alliance, at the Brooklyn Borough President Land Use hearing.
Thirty-four out of forty-one participants at the Brooklyn Borough President’s ULURP hearing encouraged Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to approve the project. New York City Department of City Planning will hold a remote public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for River Ring on October 6, 2021, at 10 a.m. To participate in this hearing visit NYC Engage. Written comments on the DEIS are requested and will be accepted through October 18, 2021 by 5:00 pm. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will incorporate responses to the public comments received on the DEIS and updated analysis conducted subsequent to the completion of the DEIS.