Right before 7 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, a steady stream of residents from Windsor Terrace, South Park Slope and other nearby neighborhoods started filling the basement auditorium of the Holy Name of Jesus Church on Prospect Park West. Roughly 300 people had turned up after fliers with the motto “Housing Not High-Rises” had been left on doorsteps calling for residents to rally against a proposal that would convert a linen cleaning and supply factory into hundreds of apartments along Prospect Avenue.
The meeting, which took place on November 14, was led by a group of neighbors that have dubbed themselves Arrow Action. The group started organizing in August after Arrow Linen Supply Co. had filed an environmental assessment statement with the City Planning Office requesting to rezone its lots at 441 and 467 Prospect Avenue so it could sell the land to a developer who could then opt to construct a roughly 299,000 square-foot residential complex that would include two 13-story apartment towers.
“We think there’s a responsible way to develop that site, to create more affordable housing that fits into the neighborhood,” said Arrow Action member Jay Goldberg at the community meeting. “We support changes to the zoning policy through a comprehensive considerate process. Not this kind of one-off developer land grab to upzone property to increase the profits that the developer will end up making.”
To be sure, the construction of two 13-story towers would loom large in a neighborhood known for three-story rowhomes.
But Arrow’s proposal comes at a time when the growing shortage of housing and rising rents in New York City have taken center stage among politicians and housing advocates. New York City’s housing stock has grown by a meager 4 percent since 2010, lagging far behind other major U.S. cities, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. And with a housing vacancy rate of just 3 percent, New York’s lack of affordable options has only grown more pronounced.
The proposed development on Prospect Avenue would add 244 new apartments and an estimated 1,081 residents to the neighborhood, according to the company’s filing. The company is also seeking a zoning amendment that would classify the proposed building as a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) project, meaning the developer would be required to make roughly 25 to 30 percent of the units affordable to tenants earning below a certain percentage of the area’s median income.
Arrow Linen has hired an architect, but it’s not clear whether a developer is on board yet. The company did not reply to a request for an interview.
In search of an ‘appropriate’ solution
At the November meeting about the proposal, the Arrow Action team said they are aware the city is in dire need of more affordable housing, but they argue the Arrow Linen proposal, which also seeks to waive the city’s minimum parking requirement, comes at too large a cost for the neighborhood.
Arrow Action says they want to participate in the discussions about any future housing planning for the area. The group has held meetings with local elected officials and residents, handed out fliers and has circulated a petition that has received more than 1,000 signatures aimed at stopping the rezoning and advocating “for affordable housing that fits the context of our neighborhood.”
Other attendees at the meeting earlier this month brought up concerns about an increase in traffic and whether the area’s infrastructure (from schools to grocery stores to sewage drains) could handle such a sizable influx of new residents. Some worried about whether the new apartment complex will raise housing prices in the already-pricey neighborhood. Others raised questions about the fate of the tenants living in the 11 buildings that are included in the rezoning request that are not owned by Arrow Linen, but are wedged between its two sites along the north side of the block. There was also a fear that Arrow Linen’s spot rezoning will open the door for more mid-rise buildings throughout the neighborhood.
A flyer circulated by Prospect Avenue Neighbors Group
“There will be a 13-story [building] on any open lot that somebody can find a spot rezoning,” New York State Assemblymember Robert Carroll said at the meeting.
While Carroll described Arrow Linen’s proposal as “inappropriate,” he also noted that the residents who want to stop the rezoning should be prepared to compromise.
“We need to be honest, that building there is probably not going to be three stories,” he said at the meeting. “We know that there are lots of six- and seven-story buildings in the neighborhood. Those are appropriate.”
But there are others who maintain that New York can’t afford to scale back on any new housing plans.
“We can’t afford to be reducing the number of homes we are creating with the crisis that we’re in right now,” says Annemarie Gray, the executive director of Open New York, which describes itself as a pro-housing organization Open New York has circulated its own petition in favor of the rezoning, which has received more than 500 signatures, Gray says.
Gray also notes that South Slope and Windsor Terrace have lagged behind other neighborhoods in the city when it comes to developing new and affordable housing.
“This is a fantastic place for more homes and a fantastic neighborhood,” Gray says. “But we need to make sure [the neighborhood] aligns with the values of being open to new people.”
Gray also argues that new housing would serve to lower — not raise — rents. She points to a study from New York University that found that building new housing helps to lower rents and “does not cause significant displacement of lower income residents.”
Arrow Linen Supply at 441 Prospect Ave. (Brian Braiker)
Pressure to approve?
Arrow Linen’s proposal is still in its very early stages, with the formal land use review not expected to begin until next year. After that, it will need to be certified by the Department of City Planning and then there will be many more months of public comments, votes and reviews to follow.
During that time, all eyes will be on City Councilmember Shahana Hanif who will have the most sway over the fate of the rezoning since it’s her district that includes South Slope and Windsor Terrace, among other neighborhoods. Although she did not show up for the meeting, one of her reps was in attendance, though her presence was not readily identifiable by the room. A spokesperson for Hanif said the councilmember is refraining from commenting on the Arrow Linen proposal until it is certified by the Department of City Planning and she knows the full scope of the project.
Brooklyn Magazine also reached out to Borough President Antonio Reynoso, but had not heard back from his office by the time this article went to press.
Hanif and other elected officials facing similar zoning proposals could feel more pressure to sign off on projects like Arrow Linen’s given that New York City Mayor Eric Adams has made the creation of more housing one of the top three priorities in his City of Yes proposal. Adams is seeking to overhaul New York’s housing regulations in order to build 100,000 more housing units across the five boroughs over the next 15 years.
The City of Yes for Housing Opportunity proposal isn’t expected to begin the formal public review process until next spring.
“We’re in a housing crisis and we need all types of housing,” said Open New York’s Gray, “including market rate housing.”