Pratt Center Research

Building Resilient Communities

Downtown Brooklyn’s Detour: The Unanticipated Impacts of Rezoning and Development on Residents and Businesses

Report  |  July 31, 2008

The stated goal of the 2004 Downtown Brooklyn Plan was to stimulate the redevelopment of the area in order to encourage its continued transformation into New York City’s third central business district. The comprehensive development plan has created a set of negative impacts, some of which were outlined in the plan’s Environmental Impact Statement. However, many of the negative impacts that small businesses and households are currently experiencing were not taken into account by the EIS.

By reviewing the background and origins of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, the first part of this report provides a context for understanding why the City created the plan. The rest of the report is dedicated to analyzing two major sets of interrelated negative impacts, those related to small businesses and housing. By reviewing how the EIS framed the negative impacts related to these topics, this report aims to highlight how redeveloping Downtown Brooklyn is actually harmful to some local stakeholders. The following list reviews some of the report’s major findings.

Summary of Findings

1) Redeveloping Downtown Brooklyn is displacing businesses and jobs. While the EIS analysis estimated that 100 businesses—and 1,700 jobs---would be directly displaced by new development, it concluded that this does not constitute a “significant adverse impact.” To date over 100 businesses in the rezoning area have already been displaced.

2) The Downtown Brooklyn EIS analysis understates the potential for business displacement. The jobs that currently exist within designated urban renewal areas are not included in the 1,700 count of potentially lost jobs because in theory, those businesses are subject to displacement by the accompanying urban renewal plan. This methodology renders the count misleading and provides an understated picture of current and future business displacement.

3) An on-the-ground look at small business displacement reveals adverse impacts for many people who shop, work and do business in Downtown Brooklyn. As landowners clear out small businesses located on future development sites, moderate income office workers find that the shops they have patronized for years are gone. Also, as small businesses get displaced, the character of Downtown Brooklyn—particularly the Fulton Street Mall--as a shopping destination for low and moderate-income households is being threatened.

4) Contrary to the expectations of city officials and the intentions of the Downtown  BrooklynPlan, housing has been the predominant type of development as of late. This has two major implications: the thousands of office jobs that were expected to come online in Downtown Brooklyn have not materialized, and the area is becoming more of a residential neighborhood than before. However, most of the new housing units being created are market-rate and/or luxury and are therefore out of the economic reach of FUREE’s stakeholders.

5) Redeveloping Downtown Brooklyn threatens the long-term existence of a small residential community. The EIS analysis estimated that 386 residents living in about 130 housing units are subject to direct displacement if anticipated development on projected development sites occurs. Many of these units are in rent stabilized buildings, and their removal reduces the overall supply of affordable housing in New York City. The rezoning included no provisions to create or preserve affordable housing, and fewer than 800 below-market-rate units are being built in downtown Brooklyn.

6) As Downtown Brooklyn undergoes more development, impacts on neighborhood character will be significant and will affect many stakeholders’ sense of history and culture. While the EIS analysis has a very narrow perspective on the neighborhood’s historical significance and character and how they are expected to change, the new residents and workers who are expected to come to the area will create significant impacts.