Press Release

Immigrant Groups File Lawsuit to Stop Sunset Park Rezoning in Brooklyn


August 20, 2009

Brooklyn, NY–Two long-time Sunset Park residents, five local churches and a community group, Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association (CSWA), have filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court challenging the Department of City Planning’s (DCP) proposed rezoning of 128 blocks in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. They claim that the rezoning plan will encourage more luxury development and large chain stores, resulting in widespread residential and commercial displacement and gentrification among Sunset Park´s low-income Asian and Latino communities.

The lawsuit, brought by South Brooklyn Legal Services and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), charges that the City violated state and environmental laws by failing to take a hard look at the significant impacts of this rezoning plan upon the neighborhood character. The suit, Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association et al. v. Burden, asks the Court to annul DCP’s inadequate Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) and prepare the requisite Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

“This rezoning will accelerate the displacement of Asians and Latinos in this vital immigrant community. New development resulting from recent rezonings in other neighborhoods like South Park Slope have already far exceeded the City’s predictions. The City must not continue to turn a blind eye to the rezoning’s impact on people who have lived and worked in Sunset Park for years.” said Bethany Li, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The rezoning plan calls for the upzoning of Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Avenues to allow for larger residential buildings; imposes a commercial overlay on Fourth and Seventh Avenues that will radically change the character of those avenues; and expands the permitted commercial uses on several blocks of Fifth Avenue so as to encourage national chain stores to replace local businesses.

The lawsuit alleges that the DCP violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) because the plan: (1) dramatically undercounts the number of development sites that will result from the rezoning; (2) fails to discuss or analyze the effect of the plan on socioeconomic conditions; (3) ignores the impact that commercial zoning changes will have; and (4) fails to discuss the rezoning’s impact on the neighborhood’s existing character.

“The Department of City Planning ignored its obligation under the law to ensure that its rezoning plan will not affect the lives and livelihoods of the residents of Sunset Park. Rather than taking a hard look at the plan’s potential for residential and commercial displacement, DCP took no look. We call on DCP to take its legal obligation seriously and study the effect this plan will have on the unique Sunset Park community,” said Rachel Hannaford, Staff Attorney at South Brooklyn Legal Services.

Petitioners, which include a founding member of the Sunset Park Alliance of Neighbors (SPAN), and other community residents, have been vocal at recent public hearings and meetings about their fears that the plan will result in significant displacement of the low-income minority residents of Sunset Park.

On April 17, DCP issued an Environmental Assessment Statement finding that the plan would have no environmental impact. On May 20, Community Board 7 approved the plan with some modifications. The Brooklyn Borough President conditionally approved the plan on June 22. On August 12, after a public hearing with strong opposition, the City Planning Commission approved the rezoning. The City Council is expected to vote on the rezoning proposal in the next few months.

“The rezoning plan will encourage more luxury condos that will push out low-income Asian and Latino communities in Sunset Park. We know this will happen because we have seen this displacement happen in other low-income and immigrant neighborhoods,” said Wendy Cheung, a community organizer at CSWA.

“Residents of Sunset Park have spoken clearly and loudly at every public hearing about their concerns and their objections to this plan and we need to know that the City is going to respect that and study the impacts that the rezoning will have on the community,” said Rebecca Giordano, SPAN member.

**For more information:
**Bethany Li
Equal Justice Works Fellow
212.966.5932 ext. 213