Friday, April 26, 2013

Surge of Residential Development Hits Downtown Brooklyn

The forest of apartment towers that has sprouted in downtown Brooklyn in recent years may just be the beginning of the area's upward growth according to a local business group, which predicts a second wave to the recent construction boom. Some 14 residential projects, including a few over 50 stories tall, are expected to be added in the area in the next two to three years. Of the 4,746 planned apartments, more than 20% of the units will be earmarked for affordable housing. About half of these projects are already rising, while the other half are currently in the development process. When they are completed, the area's population will rise from a little more than 13,000 to well over 25,000.

The boom began with a rezoning in 2004, which paved the way for new office and commercial towers along Flatbush Avenue and the surrounding blocks. Since then, 29 buildings with nearly 5,300 units have sprung up.

"You look at the residential boom that already took place, you look at the once-in-a-generation projects coming online, like Barclays Center and Brooklyn Bridge Park, you could conjecture, 'Oh, well, that's kind of the exclamation point, and we're done,'" said Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. "But no, I think really that's just the beginning, and you start to see that now with the next wave of development that's coming."

The group has also noted an increase in the portion of new units that will be affordable—rising to nearly 22% in the latest wave, from about 9% in the previous one.
This will push the area's ratio of affordable housing to market-rate to about 15%.

Once the current crops of projects are completed, the area will boast more than 1,400 affordable units, according to the partnership's study.

"When the rezoning was done, people complained it did not do enough for affordable housing, but this shows that's not the case," Mr. Reed said. "The rezoning worked."

The rezoning was one of the first major undertakings of the Bloomberg-era Department of City Planning, led by Commissioner Amanda Burden. The city has now rezoned more than one-third of the city's landmass, and the downtown Brooklyn one served as a model for many, pushing inclusionary housing as a means to foster affordable housing development.

Some complained that housing for low- and middle-income families should have been mandatory in all new developments, but the administration prefers a market-driven approach that uses government incentives and tax breaks to promote the private development of affordable housing.

"We're very pleased with the progress occurring in downtown Brooklyn, including a significant increase in the creation of affordable housing," Brooklyn City Planning Director Purnima Kapur said. "This indicates that the 2004 rezoning, in conjunction with other programs that promote affordable housing, is achieving its goals of creating a lively neighborhood with affordable and mixed-income housing, new retail stores, offices, and hotels that bring economic vitality and jobs to this area."

A spokesman for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which has helped support many projects in downtown Brooklyn, said the neighborhood has become a new home for all New Yorkers where once there was but a few hundred apartments.

"This is good housing policy, but more than that, it is good neighborhood policy and a road map for creating stable and diverse communities," he said.

Among the new developments embracing the public-private model is BAM South, a 32-story tower being built by Dumbo developer Two Trees Management.

In addition to 300 apartments, 20% of which will be set aside as affordable housing, the base of the building will contain 50,000 square feet of cultural space owned by the city.

"Before there were lingering questions about the area's attractiveness after work and on weekends, but the successful opening of Barclay's Center, the growing array of first-rate cultural institutions and more interesting retail options have driven up demand," said David Lombino, Two Tree's director of special projects. "More people want to live in downtown Brooklyn because it's a diverse and vibrant New York neighborhood and the market is responding to that."

Another 80/20 project, The Dermot Company's 47-story project on Flatbush Avenue, known as 66 Rockwell, will be the first to market since the bust, with 327 apartments coming to market in a few months. The Hub, developed by Doug Steiner, owner of the eponymous movie studio in the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard, will soon rise a few blocks away. That 52-story tower is slated to boast 750 units.

"We called it The Hub because there are so many great neighborhoods radiating out from our site, it's got great transportation, it's got great shopping and restaurants, and now it's going to have the best-in-class buildings," Mr. Steiner said. "Downtown Brooklyn really is becoming the heart of the Brooklyn everybody's talking about."

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