Last week, Judge Arthur Engoron of New York State Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits developer The Rabsky Group from doing construction at the former site of the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
The proposal, passed by the City Council late last year, would create an eight-building residential complex with 1,146 apartments, 287 of which would be permanently affordable. The deal includes public open space and retail.
Organizations such as Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and Churches United for Fair Housing, the plaintiff in the new lawsuit, have long claimed that the development would worsen segregation and discrimination in the area.
Organizers say it violates the federal Fair Housing Act because the city did not adequately study the possible impact on segregation should the development go up.
“Under the Fair Housing Act, the city is under a continuing obligation to evaluate and address this segregation, with the aim of making our communities fairer and more integrated,” said Adam Meyers, a staff attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, in a statement. “But for years, the city has turned a blind eye to issues of segregation and racial impacts in its zoning activities. This has got to stop.”
The developer and the housing groups will meet in court again in May.
The restraining order comes on the heels of the settlement of another lawsuit within the Broadway Triangle. In December, the city agreed to build 375 affordable units on city-owned land in the area.
The city also agreed to redo the bidding process for the project, and give preference to residents from both Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant, two neighborhoods that border the site.
The previous plan, which was brought to court years ago, only gave community preference to Williamsburg.
The settlement also includes a commitment that two-thirds of the units will be one or two-bedrooms, and $2.4 million in funding for Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A to represent tenants facing housing discrimination.
Housing groups say the new lawsuit against the Pfizer site development addresses similar themes of racial segregation.
“We demand that the city fulfill their obligations to affirmatively further fair housing by rectifying the Pfizer development, which will only exacerbate the existing segregation between Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick,” said Alex Fennell from Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH). “These divisions have become deeply entrenched in the fabric of our neighborhoods as a result of decades of federal and city policies.”
In a statement, Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who doesn’t represent the Broadway Triangle but the adjacent district, said the temporary halt on construction puts real estate developers “on notice.”
“If you rezone a neighborhood without considering its impact on segregation, the justice system will hold you accountable,” he said.
Reynoso said he repeatedly warned the city about the history of segregation in the Broadway Triangle, as well as the developer’s “track record of discriminatory housing practices.”
Housing groups have argued that the Rabsky Group builds housing aimed at the Hasidic community, leaving out longtime black and Latino residents in the area.
“This is a powerful first step in a case that could have sweeping consequences for the city’s rezoning plans,” Reynoso added.