Reuters — A state appellate court has given New York City the green light to proceed with the rezoning of a Brooklyn neighborhood, a move Chinese and Latino immigrants had complained would reduce the amount of affordable housing.
The city contended that the rezoning, which targeted 128 blocks in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was intended to preserve the neighborhood’s character by adding height limits for new buildings and creating incentives for affordable housing along certain corridors. The rezoning, which was approved by the city council in 2009, also changed the area’s commercial zoning.
The Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, churches and residents filed a lawsuit, claiming that the changes would price out Chinese and Latino immigrants who call the area home.
In a 3-2 ruling, the Appellate Division, First Department, said the Department of City Planning conducted an adequate environmental review of the neighborhood and rationally concluded the changes would not adversely affect the area.
The agency prepared an “Environmental Assessment Statement” that “identified the relevant areas of environmental concern, made a thorough investigation of those areas, and provided a reasoned elaboration of the basis for its determination,” Justice Richard Andrias wrote for the majority, which included Justices James Catterson and Helen Freedman.
“It is not the role of the court to weigh the desirability of the proposed action or to choose among alternatives, resolve disagreements among experts, or to substitute its judgment for that of the agency,” Andrias said.
FAILED TO TAKE A “HARD LOOK”
The residents had insisted that the planning department’s review ran afoul of the requirements of the state Environmental Quality Review Act and the City Environmental Quality Review. They argued that the department “based its development scenario on faulty assumptions that underestimate the opportunities for market-rate development, failed to adequately analyze the impact of the commercial zoning changes in existing residential and commercial districts, which will result in new types of businesses, and failed to adequately analyze CEQR (City Environmental Quality Review) technical areas such as neighborhood character and socioeconomic impacts,” according to the decision.
In dissent, Justices Sheila Abdus-Salaam and Karla Moskowitz said that “DCP failed to take the requisite ‘hard look’ at the potential impact of the rezoning on the businesses and residents of Sunset Park and to provide a ‘reasoned elaboration’ of the basis for its negative declaration.”
The dissent pointed out that the rezoning changed the permissible use from residential to commercial for 33 blocks on Third, Fourth and Seventh avenues.
“The EAS noted that this overlay will permit new businesses, but did not explore or elaborate upon the new businesses that might be established, or analyze the effect of bringing these new businesses to Seventh Avenue,” Abdus-Salaam wrote.
Elizabeth Natrella, of the New York City Law Department, said in a statement, “The Sunset Park rezoning involved careful consultation with the local community board, elected officials and neighborhood residents. We are pleased that this critical initiative can continue moving forward.”
Bethany Li, a staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which worked with South Brooklyn Legal Services to represent the Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association, said she has yet to discuss the ruling with her clients.
“We’re really disappointed that the ruling is in favor of the city,” said Wendy Cheung, a representative for the Sunset Park Anti-Displacement Campaign for Chinese Staff. Cheung said they are already seeing the impact of the rezoning, with condominium development and higher rents.
The case is Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association v. Amanda Burden, as Director of the New York City Department of Planning, et al, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, First Department, No. 4479.
For Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association: Rachel Hannaford and Jennifer Levy of South Brooklyn Legal Services and Bethany Li of Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
For Burden: Elizabeth Natrella, Leonard Koerner, Carrie Noteboom and Haley Stein of the New York City Law Department.
(Reporting by Jennifer Golson)
via Thomson Reuters
Immigrant Groups File Lawsuit to Stop Sunset Park Rezoning in Brooklyn (August 20, 2009)