Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Developer Selected for Housing Project in Williamsburg

Where the city once collected cast-off cornices and wrought-iron gates, a local developer will soon build homes for 55 low-income families. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development has selected North Brooklyn Development Corp. to build an affordable housing complex overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge. The mixed-use complex will rise on a city-owned lot at 337 Berry Street, between South 4th and South 5th streets, the site of a former Landmarks Preservation Commission warehouse.

The announcement helps fulfill a promise, made almost a decade ago by the Bloomberg administration as part of the city's 2005 upzoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to use public property for the creation of affordable housing.

 The process took additional time because the city was not working with vacant land. The former warehouse at 337 Berry Street and South Fifth was used by the landmarks commission to house architectural salvage that the agency had collected over the decades.

The salvage department was shut down in 2000, and the contents of the warehouse were auctioned off in 2011, at which time demolition could commence.

The selection comes in the midst of rising community outrage over the dearth of affordable housing units promised by the city as part of the city’s rezoning.  According to published reports, eight years after pledging to build 1,345 affordable housing units on city-owned land in North Williamsburg, only 19 units, or two-percent of the promised tally, have been completed.

As its name suggests, North Brooklyn has developed more than a dozen affordable housing and economic development projects in the neighborhood since the 1980s. "It's easier to do work in a community when you know it," Mr. Mazur, who has called Greenpoint home since 1950, said. MDG has developed more than 10,000 units across the city in the past decade.

The group has hired Dattner Architects, which has considerable experience designing cutting edge affordable housing and other public works, such as Via Verde in the Bronx and Coney Island Commons and Steiner Studios in Brooklyn.

Michael Rooney, managing partner at MDG, credits Dattner with boosting the number of apartments by more than 50% with their creative design. The original proposal from the city called for 36 units, but the team created more units by shifting the building off Berry Street and onto South Fifth. That created a square rather than rectangular footprint that could accommodate more units.

"It's amazing what a good architect can do," Mr. Rooney said. He also stressed that the fixtures and detailing would be nicer than the typical affordable-housing project. "When you walk in, you won't know its affordable housing."

Of the 55 units, 28 are two-bedrooms, 19 are one-bedrooms and eight are studios. Affordable housing is prized in the neighborhood as older families keep getting priced out of their tenements on Williamsburg's south side.

The project will also include 3,900 square feet for community groups, though they have yet to be selected.

The Garden, a family-owned organic grocery established on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, will operate a grocery on the ground floor. It was one of the first such stores to open in North Brooklyn.

"It was important to us to provide inexpensive healthy food," Mr. Mazur said. "The environmental injustices that have been perpetrated on the community—these are the subtle things people don't pay attention to."