Community Workshop Intro.: A Brief History

by Heather Van De Mark on

We thought it would be helpful to provide some additional information regarding the waterfront rezoning on the GWAPP website over the next few days as a lead up to the GWAPP/NAG Community Workshop on Greenpoint Landing & 77 Commercial Street that will take place this Thursday night. While it’s an issue that covers some eight years of civic history, even longer if you include the 197-a plans, it’s important that everyone in the community has a working knowledge of its history in order to reconcile how and why the North Brooklyn community is in its current situation.

Let’s take a brief trip through history.

2002 – 197-a Plans are Passed
197-a plans are community approved recommendations for zoning and land use—including residential, commercial and manufacturing. They can include many other related directives, such as increasing affordable housing stock, developing new parks and ensuring job retention.

After years of research and planning, Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s (separate) 197-a plans were passed by the City Planning Commission and adopted by City Council in 2002.

You can peruse the full 197-a plans here: Greenpoint (HTML), Williamsburg (Doc).

2005 – Waterfront is Rezoned
To over simplify: The City decided they wanted to be able to build up the waterfront in North Brooklyn, but to do so they had to rezone these areas from industrial manufacturing to high density, mixed-use residential spaces. The rezoning affects 175 blocks in North Brooklyn.

Over years, local groups and Community Board 1 (CB1) sponsored several studies and reports in a response to the City’s initial proposals for rezoning. The major areas of concern and study were Height & Bulk, Economic Development, Parks & Open Space, and Affordable Housing. The community wanted to develop a plan based around the community created, city approved 197-a plans. Alas, the community was led to believe that their only options were to accept the redevelopment plans for mixed-use residential space or face a future of power plants and more waste transfer stations.

In May 2005, the rezoning was passed by City Council.

To go back to those four major areas of concern:
Height & Bulk: The neighborhood more or less lost on this issue, because the waterfront was rezoned to approve 150 ft. to 300 ft. waterfront developments.

Economic Development: A $20 million industrial retention fund was established to foster nonprofit and art-sector organizations acquisition of industrial space.

Parks & Open Space: “A five-acre parkland site was included in Greenpoint, as well as a $14 million pledge to develop the three-acre MTA site on Commercial Street in Greenpoint. A two-acre site adjacent to the Barge Park ball field was included with a $7.5 million fund for its 2010 operating budget. A $10 million fund would be established to encourage and oversee the shore walk’s development. A provision was established requiring that all developed shore walk site deeds be mandatorily forfeited to the city after completion, effectively establishing public ownership of the shore walk at the completion of the development process.”

Affordable Housing: “Major gains were made with a voluntary 33% affordable housing rate, with earmarked market rate unit bonuses as an incentive. Half of this affordable housing stock was guaranteed to 11211 and 11222 residents. A $2 million tenant legal fund would also be established.”

You can read more about the rezoning from GWAPP’s Historical Narrative: 2005 North Brooklyn Waterfront Rezoning, released in May 2013. (The quoted sections above are from this document.)

You can view more primary documents from the 197-a and rezoning years, in the GWAPP Archive, under Waterfront Revitalization and Open Space.

Here’s a NY Times piece from 2005 discussing the rezoning, City Is Backing Makeover for Decaying Brooklyn Waterfront.

And here’s an informative article from Capital New York post-rezoning, The ‘drastic miscalculation’ that stalled the greening of Greenpoint-Williamsburg.

2005 – Points of Agreement
Coinciding with the Rezoning was the Points of Agreement (POA) between City Council and the Mayor’s Office. The POA discuss specific commitments and plans for different locations and even includes pricing of certain items. It addresses open space, industrial preservation, needs of community district 1, creation of the Community Advisory Board (CAB), and affordable housing.

You can view the Points of Agreement online. I highly recommend it as the language is fairly accessible.

2013 – Today’s Watefront
As a result of the waterfront rezoning, we have high-rise developments coming to the waterfront and not much else. It’s unclear where the $20 million arts fund stands, but it is clear that only a fraction of the promised open space has been developed (or even purchased). Likewise, affordable housing development has stalled with some estimates saying that only 20% of the promised units have been built.

You can check out the most recent presentation by the City to the Greenpoint-Williamsburg CAB on the state of the Rezoning and POA: Progress Briefing – May 15, 2013 (PDF).

Questions? Comments?
Hopefully that provided some context surrounding the rezoning and waterfront developments. If you still have specific questions, comments or would like clarification, leave them in the comments or on the Event Facebook page. One of our goals is to help explain what has happened, how it affects what is happening, and what future happenings it will lead to. We’ll do our best to respond to them here on the site or at our Community Workshop on Thursday.

Heather Van De Mark

Heather Van De Mark

Heather is a designer/writer specializing in non-profit organizations and social causes. Originally from central NY, Heather settled into the charming Greenpoint neighborhood in 2011. While most of her community activism takes place from behind a computer screen, Heather can often be found at CB1 meetings, the McCarren Park track and any of the parks along the waterfront.
  • Gail C Anderson commented:

    Hi Heather & GWAPP,

    Thanks for the update. I am a member of DAwG (Dog Alliance within Greenpoint) and we are searching temporary Private Vacant Land for a dog run until we can get a permanent dog run in North Greenpoint for the many dog owners here!

    Best regards,
    Gail C Anderson


    • Heather Van De Mark

      Heather Van De Mark commented:

      Hi Gail, if you’re interested in writing a blog post about who/what DAwG is and the need for a temporary space, that’s something we could post here on the GWAPP site. Contact if you’re interested and want to know more, throw ideas around, etc.