Park Slope Neighbors Seek to Block New Apartment Buildings on Industrial Site

A laundry company wants to turn its factory into 13-story apartment buildings, sparking the latest in a series of fierce zoning fights.

Sam Mellins   ·   December 20, 2023
Industrial laundry company Arrow Linen has owned lots on a Park Slope block since the 1970s | Sam Mellins

As Mayor Eric Adams pursues a plan to rezone much of New York City in an attempt to tackle a severe housing shortage, a proposal to build several hundred new apartments on a Park Slope block has generated fierce opposition from neighborhood residents.

The proposal was put forward by the industrial laundry company Arrow Linen, which is seeking the city’s permission to turn two sites currently occupied by its laundry plant into 13-story apartment buildings. To do that, it will need to get the City Council’s approval to lift the current zoning limits, which cap most buildings on the block at two or three stories.

The rezoning could allow for about 240 new apartments on the site, including about 60 units of affordable housing.

That won’t happen if local group Arrow Action, which formed recently in opposition to the proposal, is successful in its efforts to block the project. The group says it has attracted hundreds of local residents to its meetings in recent months, gathered over 1,100 supporters, and festooned many neighborhood storefronts with a flier reading “HOUSING NOT HIGH-RISES.” Even a few dozen vocal locals can guide politicians’ choices on rezonings, making Arrow Action’s mobilization a force to be reckoned with.

The group’s opposition stems from the height of the proposed buildings, which are “deeply incompatible with the context of the neighborhood,” Arrow Action member Philip Tisne told New York Focus.

Arrow Action wants to see “truly affordable housing” on the sites, said member Christopher Huntington, but it also wants low-rise buildings of a similar size to other housing on the block.

The group is still looking into how that could be accomplished, he said. Building deeply affordable housing generally requires significant government subsidies or philanthropic support.

“We will do more homework on what are some other options,” Huntington said. “It’s frustrating that others aren’t asking the same question.”

One way to produce affordable housing without public subsidies is through a city program requiring buildings that get zoning boosts to make at least a quarter of their apartments affordable. Under the current rezoning proposal, the sites would participate in this program, meaning that the higher the buildings go, the more units of affordable housing they will produce.

Arrow Action has also raised concerns with the Department of City Planning that the towers could overcrowd public schools, strain local sewers, and increase traffic. Impact on sewers from a project of this size is unlikely. Earlier this month, the department released a study of over 400 recent developments of 250 units or fewer that found that only one needed to take steps to avoid negative impact on local sewers. That development also included a shopping center and parking garage.

The district’s median income is twice that of the city average, and many of Arrow Action’s members are distinctly well-heeled homeowners. Huntington, for example, owns a home in the neighborhood valued at $2.8 million. But they reject any characterization of their members as “rich folks who live in fancy houses,” Tisne said.

“A lot of the people that are coming to our meetings have owned their houses for decades or more — bought them when they cost $20,000,” he said. “A lot of them live off pensions.”

Many neighborhood storefronts display an Arrow Action flyer reading "HOUSING NOT HIGH-RISES!" | Sam Mellins

Another member, Kate McCabe, currently lives in a townhouse near the rezoning area that her parents purchased with a $118,000 mortgage in 1986, shortly after she was born, according to public records. Her parents, one of whom served on the New York City Council, still own the home, which is now worth close to $2 million.

McCabe is an affordable housing planner who works for Phipps Houses, a major affordable housing nonprofit, and before that worked at the New York City Public Housing Agency, according to LinkedIn. She declined to comment.

Some neighborhood residents support the proposal, like Ben Furnas, a board member of the pro-development group Open New York, which says it has collected over 700 signatures on a petition in favor of the project.

“It feels like a nice opportunity to build something that wouldn’t require the displacement of neighborhood residents,” said Furnas, who rents an apartment a few blocks away from the site. “I resent the idea that we should deprive dozens of families the chance to live in our neighborhood because we don’t want to see an apartment building of a height that is common across the city.”

In a statement to New York Focus, Arrow Linen spokesperson Michael Woloz said the company “is proposing a transit-oriented housing development on the site of its facility that is responsive to the citywide housing crisis.”

As Arrow Action seeks to block the rezoning, state Assemblymember Robert Carroll, who represents the area in Albany, is seeking to shrink it.

He’s historically been a strong proponent of new housing — on the statewide level. Speaking to New York Focus last spring, amid Governor Kathy Hochul’s failed push to ramp up housing production in New York, Carroll said that adding affordable housing is “an existential issue for New York.”

But Carroll called the proposed development “inappropriate,” and suggested six- or seven-story buildings on the sites, rather than 13. That would likely create about two-thirds as much housing as Arrow Linen’s proposal, Carroll told New York Focus, with roughly 40 affordable units instead of 60. Arrow Linen’s spokesperson didn’t respond to a question about Carroll’s suggestion.

One factor animating his opposition to the plan is his read of the developer’s motivations, Carroll said.

“The reason I think he so desperately wants the height is not because he’s looking to get more affordable units,” he said. “It’s not my job as a representative to say, ‘How can you maximize your final end profits so that you can make $75 million, move to Florida, and play golf for the rest of your life?’”

Carroll has previously called for focusing development in the city on industrial sites like Arrow Linen’s.

“We have low slung industrial buildings that are no longer being used. Let’s build some density there,” he told New York Focus last spring. “We can’t just allow all of this land to sit barren.”

Parking lot next to a brick warehouse with a blue sky.
Arrow Linen's trucks make frequent use of the mid-block loading dock | Sam Mellins

But Arrow Linen has lost Carroll’s favor by not contributing to the community, he said.

“I’ve never remembered Arrow Linen donating to the local public school down the block,” he said. “Arrow Linen has not been a good neighbor.”

Woloz, the company’s spokesperson, said that it has been “a major employer and good neighbor for 75 years.”

The most influential voice in determining whether the rezoning is approved isn’t Carroll, but rather City Councilmember Shahana Hanif, whose district includes the site. City Council tradition nearly always gives the local council member the final say over rezonings in their district. A spokesperson for Hanif said that she isn’t commenting on Arrow Linen’s proposal until it’s certified by the Department of City Planning next year.

Stephanie Lazzara, a school administrator who has lived in an apartment on the block for 12 years, is worried that her landlords might sell the building to someone who wants to build something taller, if the rezoning is approved.

“I could be kicked out, and it would be pretty upsetting,” she said.

The City Council district that the Arrow Linen site sits in ranks in the middle of the pack for new affordable housing, with about 700 new affordable apartments produced since 2014. Its population is 60 percent white and 21 percent Black or Latino. A neighboring district, represented by Councilmember Crystal Hudson, produced more than 3,000 affordable apartments in the same time span. That district’s population is 38 percent white, and 48 percent Black or Latino.

Most research suggests that building both market rate and affordable housing slows rent growth and frees up other units across the income spectrum. Last week, Mayor Eric Adams signed legislation ordering a study of how much housing each city neighborhood should add to address New York City’s deepening shortage, partly as an effort to get whiter, more affluent neighborhoods like Park Slope to play a bigger role in addressing the crisis.

Howard Slatkin, executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, said that this rezoning was an example of how that could happen.

“We have systematically zoned our city to not have enough housing, and we have to do something about that,” he said. As a general practice, he added, “we should look for the opportunity to build as much mixed-income housing as possible.

Carroll hopes that his proposal for six- or seven-story buildings can strike a middle ground.

“It’s really, really sad when people who grow up in a neighborhood or a city or community go, ‘I would love to stay here, I would love to keep working here, but I can’t find an apartment,’” he told New York Focus last spring. “I have so many friends who grew up in Brooklyn who are now fighting to find housing.”

Update: This article was updated to clarify that Howard Slatkin was not taking a specific position on Arrow Linen's proposal.

Sam Mellins is senior reporter at New York Focus, which he has been a part of since launch day. His reporting has also appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Intercept, THE CITY, and The Nation. 
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