Cypress Hills/East New York, a community of about 75,000 people in Brooklyn, NY, has incredible ethnic diversity, with residents from Bangladesh, Ecuador, Mexico, Trinidad, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic. About 34 percent of the neighborhood live below the poverty line and suffer from an almost 15 percent unemployment rate. Area residents have the public health concerns often associated with poorer communities, and many properties are vacant and/or contaminated.
In an effort to develop and maintain community-focused land use choices, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) applied for a BOA grant to study an approximately 307-acre area with about 30 brownfield sites. In May 2011 the group was awarded the grant and used the BOA planning process to foster the development of land uses such as affordable housing; space for manufacturing businesses and associated living wage jobs; space for locally-serving commercial and retail businesses (including a full-service grocery store with fresh food); and community spaces for recreation, culture, and green open spaces.
Citizen Planning: Collaborating on a Rezoning
CHLDC organized the Cypress Hills Verde Summit in October 2011 to bring the concept of brownfields redevelopment to a larger community audience. The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) conducted a workshop at the Summit, focusing on one corridor in the neighborhood. CHLDC later held smaller workshops at a variety of venues, including an event at an afterschool program co-sponsored by the Pratt Center. One of the most significant aspects of this planning process was the understanding that the manufacturing-oriented zoning of the area no longer met the goals of the community.
As the BOA planning process was wrapping up, DCP started looking at communities throughout the city that would benefit from reexamining current zoning. It launched the “Sustainable Communities East New York” (SCENY) project to expand the geographic scope of the Cypress Hills BOA and develop specific rules for land development. In 2014, DCP and CHLDC jointly applied and were awarded a BOA grant to further the goals of their BOA and SCENY planning efforts. A key component of this collaboration between a non-profit and a city agency was joint advocacy and outreach related to the rezoning.
In order to advocate for the best rezoning outcome possible, CHLDC worked with local stakeholders and residents from the Coalition for Community Advancement, which embarked on a grassroots process to create a comprehensive neighborhood plan. The Coalition, with help from technical assistance providers, drafted an alternative community rezoning plan to present to the City which included recommendations related to strategic policies, programs, and capital investments to ensure that growth from the rezoning would be equitable and that existing residents would not be displaced. Organizers sponsored several public forums throughout the neighborhood to solicit community input and buy-in for the alternative plan.
Cypress Hills BOA Map
In February 2016 the New York City Planning Commission passed rezoning for East New York, and CHLDC turned its attention to finding the right kind of development for the strategic sites picked during the BOA process. The City committed $267 million in additional funds towards capital improvements and new programs to improve neighborhood housing, small business, pedestrian safety, open space, and school conditions.
The map below shows the 83 building applications that were filed with the NYC Department of Buildings between May 2016 and March 2019. Collectively, if the permits are granted, these activities will lead to the creation of 2,200 residential units in the rezoned area. By 2026, the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the rezoning estimates a total net increases of 6,312 units.
The Cypress Hills BOA is an example of how strong community visions and goals can come together to create land uses which support the desired future of the neighborhood. All six priority strategic sites have been developed or are slated for development, with two of the six being developed by CHLDC. There are over 1,500 units of affordable housing completed or planned on the priority strategic sites alone, with hundreds of other units in the pipeline on other sites. Finally, the City is doing a complete streets retrofit of Atlantic Avenue, adding a planted median and making pedestrian crossings safer.