Much of the Broadway Triangle in Williamsburg is frozen by a legal battle over discriminatory zoning, but developer Rabsky Group is pushing forward with their plan to develop two industrial properties in the area into seven large residential towers.
The firm, led by Simon Dushinsky, hopes to build more than a million square feet of apartments on lots bounded by Harrison Avenue, Walton Street, Union Avenue, and Gerry Street. The complex would host 1,147 apartments, 287 of which would rent for below-market rates, plus 64,800 square feet of retail and 407 parking spaces, according to documents posted on the Department of City Planning’s website. The city would apply the mayor’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy to the project, which would require that up to 30 percent of the apartments rent as affordable housing through a lottery. If the City Council pushes for the 30 percent option, then 344 apartments would go for below-market rates.
The developer also plans to include a 26,000-square-foot public open space, which would run mid-block between the buildings on both sites.
Some of the sites would be zoned for more dense development. The new zoning would cap building heights at nine stories along Harrison Avenue, 11 stories on the portion that faces the through-block public space, and 14 stories along Union Avenue. The tallest buildings would reach up to 140 feet into the air.
Like much of the Broadway Triangle, these properties used to be owned by drug manufacturer Pfizer. The company began as a chemical manufacturer in 1849 and operated out of a building at Harrison Avenue and Bartlett Street. The pharmaceutical giant later built a large factory at 630 Flushing Avenue, two blocks south of Rabsky’s current properties. Pfizer stopped using the sites on Gerry and Walton streets in 1989 and demolished the buildings there by the mid-’90s. The block-long Flushing Avenue complex shut down in 2008, and Pfizer sold the 575,000-square-foot building for $19 million in 2011. A few years later, landlord Acumen Partners converted the sprawling factory to office space, leasing space to Fresh Direct, the Pratt Institute, Roberta’s Pizza, and SoulCycle.
New development has already grown in some parts of the Broadway Triangle, but these blocks next to the former Pfizer campus are still zoned for low-density, industrial uses, like factories and warehouses. They’ve remained empty and trash strewn ever since the drug company unloaded them to Rabsky for $12.8 million in 2012.
Releasing these documents is only the first step in the public approval process for this project. The Rabsky Group will ultimately have to go through a six-month-long review process, which requires green lights from the local community board, the City Planning Commission, Borough President Eric Adams, and the City Council.
Council Member Stephen Levin, who represents Williamsburg and Greenpoint on the City Council, will have the final say in how much affordable housing gets built and whether Rabsky wins their rezoning.
YIMBY expect that the public approval process will be contentious. When the Bloomberg administration tried to rezone eight blocks of the Broadway Triangle in 2009, neighborhood groups sued the city, alleging that the new zoning favored the area’s large Hasidic Jewish population over their black and Latino neighbors. In 2012, a judge ruled that the zoning was discriminatory and issued an injunction that prevented anyone from developing on the city-owned sites in the Triangle. Rabsky owns their properties outright and isn’t subject to the 2012 judgement, but months of public meetings may draw protests from the same activist groups who opposed the Bloomberg-era rezoning.
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