Residents of the Tompkins and Sumner public housing developments this week pummeled the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) with questions regarding the cash-strapped agency’s plans to expand and go into the commercial real estate business in their developments.
But NYCHA officials continued to play matters close to the vest.
“Although NYCHA does not currently have any proposed development under consideration, NYCHA is interested in obtaining the commercial overlay now so that we can plan for mixed-use development in the future,” said NYCHA spokeswoman Sheila Stainback.
The issue dominated the Community Board 3 public hearing, in which the city’s Planning Department explained the proposed rezoning of the northern portion of Bed-Stuy bounded by Quincy Street to Flushing Avenue and from Classon Avenue to Broadway.
The area is a mix of commercial and residential uses. Currently, there are no height restrictions-meaning a developer could build as high as they wanted.
The rezoning will place height restrictions on the brownstone or row house area of five stories or fifty feet. Along the Broadway corridor, which has elevated subway tracks, the new zoning would allow for retail on the ground floor and residential on the top floors with height restrictions of 10 stories or 100 feet.
Along the major avenues, the height restrictions would vary between seven and 10 stories.
The Planning Department does not put height restrictions on NYCHA properties, but the rest of the Myrtle Avenue portion of the rezoning area would be 10 stories or 100 feet.
However, NYCHA does need to have the rezoning include its plans for a commercial component on the ground floor as it is currently zoned only residential.
David Parish, the Planning Department’s point person on the Bed-Stuy rezoning, said the city contacts all entities involved in any rezoning and thus NYCHA became involved because of their parcels in the area.
But at the hearing several residents questioned NYCHA’s plans.
“We need to see what we will gain by getting a commercial overlay and if the so-called affordable units added are affordable to us,” said Tompkins Houses Residents Association President Leora Keith.
Keith said residents at Tompkins might go along with the plan, but wanted assurances that it would include low-income units and not just moderate-income housing units. She also said a senior center is sorely needed and that local residents of color and women should get priority in any business and job opportunities resulting from future development.
“We need something given back to us not only in writing but in stone,” said Keith.
One resident pointed out how NYCHA always says they have no money and wondered aloud how they can afford looking at expansion now.
Other residents noted the expansion would most likely be done over the parking lot and take away much-needed parking spaces.
However, NYCHA officials at the meeting were very reluctant to answer any questions until Community Board 3 Chairman Henry Butler insisted they address some of the resident concerns.
NYCHA Deputy Director for Development Burton Leon then got up and said the agency is indeed looking at developing over the parking lots in Sumner and Tompkins, but there might be some additional underground parking developed.
Leon said that there is no official plans to do anything at this time.
But Butler, who grew up in the Tompkins Houses, said it is his experience that whenever NYCHA talks about possible development it means they have something in the pipeline.
“If the local residents don’t back the NYCHA commercial portion of the rezoning plan we won’t back it, but I do feel an overall rezoning of the area is needed,” he said.