Rezoning and ¨The New Buildings¨

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Proposed development on the South Williamsburg waterfront, just north of the Wiliamsburg Bridge.

In my interview with Javier, the concept of ¨the new buildings¨ was a reoccuring topic that Mr. Cabrera used to illustrate the changing face and landscape of the neighborhood.  

These vast changes in the age and types of buildings in Williamsburg, specifically by the southside waterfront, can largely be acredited to a 197-a plan passed in 2002 that proposed rezoning in the newly ¨hot¨and land starved Williamsburg [14]. This plan was deeply informed by the significant drop in industry jobs that occurred in Williamsburg between 1992 and 1999 (4,250 manufacturing jobs · over two thirds of the employment stock), as well as a rampant decrease in vacant North Brooklyn land (·30%) and rampant increase in residential building space (45%) [14].

The Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning defined a 197-a plan as ¨a participatory planning tool developed in the mid-1970s that allow community boards to sponsor and draft community based plans. Once passed by DCP and City Council, 197-plans serve as advisory plans for future private and public developments within a community district [14]. Both Williamsburg and neighboring Greenpoint´s plans outlined these same basic principles:

  1. Decrease heavy manufacturing uses,
  2. Increase low density residential, and
  3. Develop contiguous waterfront open space [14].

These plans culminated in a 2005 decision to rezone both Williamsburg and Greenpoint´s waterfront areas. This decision allowed for the controversial and illegal conversion of industrial properties (such as warehouse buildings) into soon unaffordable lofting residences. It also gave way to 10,000 units of high rise housing and the mass conversion of former industry buildings to new residences [14]. Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the time argued that rezoning¨“protects the fabric of inland neighborhoods, preserving their mixed-use character, preventing noxious, heavy industrial uses and further out-of-scale development [2].¨Despite this, the plan has met heavy criticism from both civic activists and community board members, many of whom argue that the high rise waterfront buildings and the glassy condo buildings that have ensued because of their influence on the neighborhood´s housing stock do not mesh well with the neighbrohood´s original architecture and character, and that the waterfront developments specifically cage in the more eastern portions of the neighbrohoods [14]

Rezoning and ¨The New Buildings¨