Community Board 4 voted on the proposal of rezoning the Rheingold Brewery site in a closed door session in August. Irritated by the private vote, local residents set up an online petition to protest against “the undemocratic process” as well as the proposed rezoning changes.
On July 29, Community Board 4 privately approved rezoning sessions of the remaining land of the former Rheingold Brewery site, with a vote of 29 to 3. Residents and media were not invited to attend the meeting.
According to the proposal from the developer, Read Properties, the proposed rezoning sessions contain “underutilized lots” which are not available to redevelop unless rezoned. It also proposed to develop 10 residential buildings, of which 24 percent are affordable, approximately 54,000 square feet for retail and 504 parking spaces in the site.
“This is asking for a lot of Bushwick’s community resources and reciprocating with only a small fraction of ‘low-income housing’ found laughably unaffordable by the community,” said Mathew Mottel in a speech at the public hearing held by City Planning Commission on September 11. “This would shift our proud history of Bushwick industry forever out of our neighborhood.”
Deborah Brown, a board member, said she asked the board whether the meeting to vote on the proposal was public and the answer was “no.” “I don’t know why this was not public. I’m just in the dark as everybody else,” she said.
In an interview before the regular community board meeting held on September 18, the first meeting after the private vote, district manager Nadine Whitted eluded the question of why the board did not publicize the vote, saying that she was not going to talk about this issue in the meeting later.
However, she did not manage to avoid the topic. When the meeting was interrupted by attendees who kept asking the effects of the rezoning and the private vote, Whitted replied, “I am sorry that you weren’t there. I don’t know what else to say.” Julie Dent, chairperson of CB4 added, “We are not trying to hide anything.”
According to Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Meeting Law, every meeting is required to be preceded “by notice of the time and place given to the news media and by means of posting and whatever possible on the website.”
“When the vote is done, it remains valid unless and until a court takes action to invalidate the action,” said Freeman in a phone interview. “But it takes time.”
To change CB4’s decision, residents launched an open group on Facebook to protest against the illegal vote, calling for residents to sign and share an online petition to halt the final approving process by City Planning Commission.
“I did not feel heard or represented nor do I hear the voices of my neighbors being heard in regards to the major rezoning proposal underway in our neighborhood,” said Brigette Blood, one of administrators of the open page. “We feel Bushwick deserved major outreach before this rezoning passed on any level.”
Administrators also asked protestors to “get voice be heard” by sending emails about their concerns to city planners. Michael Shilstone, press officer of the New York City Department of City Planning, said it would “review and consider all testimony that it receives prior to its vote.”
District manager Whitted was indifferent to the online protest, and said, “I don’t use Facebook. I don’t know about it.”
This is not the first time CB4 relied on closed door sessions for major decisions. In February of this year, CB4 withheld information about liquor license applications from the public. After public uproar that time CB4 also reportedly argued that they weren’t trying to hide anything.