The debate of what to do with the seemingly dying manufacturing areas of New York City has gone on for years, but with the possible redesignation of a sliver of Ridgewood into a manufacturing-only zone on the table, property owners are chiming in.
“I represent four property owners along Irving Avenue,” Eric Palatnik, an attorney, said at a Community Board 5 public hearing on the issue last Wednesday. “All of them are dying on the vine and have been dying on the vine for the past five years.”
The public hearing discussed the possible addition of “SOMA”, an area south of Myrtle Avenue bordered by Irving Avenue, Hancock Street, Cypress Avenue and the Bay Ridge freight line, where Brooklyn and Queens meet, to the manufacturing zones.
“Citywide, the average industrial job pays 35 percent more than an accommodations or food services job and is more likely to unionize and provide health benefits,” Jean Tanler, a CB 5 board member and coordinator for the Maspeth Industrial Business Association, said. “It is also a diverse workforce, with 78 percent of workers being of color and 82 percent living in the outer boroughs. Over 30 percent of people living in Queens work for a manufacturer.”
The high statistics and low occupancies in these zones are why many are pushing for this largely industrial area to be part of the city’s Industrial Business Zone.
The IBZ program, put in place by Mayor Bloomberg in 2005, was an initiative to take specific areas of land predominantly used by the industrial sector and preserve them for industrial purposes only, as opposed to commercial and residential development. The Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses was formed at the same time to support these zones and the ailing industrial sector.
Though the OIMB is no longer in existence, IBZ supporters still say that protecting manufacturers is of the utmost importance. Others, like Joe Jerome, an industrial broker in Brooklyn, agree but say Ridgewood is not one of these areas.
“There’s no one who wants to support manufacturing jobs more than me but take a good look at what’s left in Ridgewood,” he said. “The buildings are not conducive, they don’t have loading docks and the streets are hard for tractor trailers to come down. All of these buildings that once upon a time were manufacturing, are not attracting manufacturing anymore. I urge you to take a good look at what’s left and do what’s best for Ridgewood.”
Another group looking to be considered when CB 5 votes on the proposal in July are the local artists’ spaces.
“There are quite a few artist studios in Ridgewood and I know there are hundreds of people living illegally in buildings proposed to be put in the IBZ and they are not suited for heavy industrial use,” Ruth Kahn, the director of Outpost, a nonprofit art’s organization in Ridgewood, said. “I can’t think of many artists who would be against a mixed-use zoning and to share the space with factories. I’ve been pushed out of neighborhoods like Williamsburg in the past. We need some- place that has mixed-use zoning that allows artists to have a workspace without being harassed by inspectors. We want to be part of the equation too.”
But while there were speakers who asserted that adding a slice of Ridgewood into the Maspeth IBZ will constrict property owners, other zones have proven that the regulations aren’t as ironclad as some may think.
According to the New York Industrial Retention Network, a nonprofit that studied commercial uses in the IBZs in 2009, there were 39 significant new nonindustrial uses in seven of the city’s 16 IBZ. Those uses include superstores, hotels, large entertainment uses and commercial condos. A multifamily residence proposal was presented before CB 5 several weeks ago for Woodward Avenue in Ridgewood right now.
So even if Palatnik’s clients are struggling to rent out their spaces to manufacturers, there are loopholes including variances and special permits.
Under the zoning resolution, while residential hotels are not allowed in manufacturing zones, transient hotels are. The Department of Buildings has interpreted condo hotels — where different individuals own each hotel unit — to fall within the definition of transient hotels.
“What we’d like to do is rezone the properties to R-6,” Palatnik said. “No big manufacturer is coming there. We wish they would but we can’t get anybody. Give them a chance to grow, let people come to your neighborhood. They’re ready to build, let them do so.”
An R-6 or R-6B area is a mixed-use zone that would permit residential and commercial use. Park Slope, which is a predominantly residential neighborhood, is classified R-6B zone. Brooklyn Heights, which has more high high-rise apartments, is classified as R-6.
But not every property owner is willing to give up on the idea of an IBZ designation for SOMA.
“I feel like basically, it’s a win-win for the city all the way,” Vernon McDermott, a second-generation manufacturer said. “I’m a manufacturer, one of the few that’s left.” “We’re a dying breed and the fact that people are coming up and saying that you can’t bring big trucks in there, well, it’s not about heavy industrial use. There are plenty of small industrial companies that make products in Ridgewood. It’s nice to consider building apartment houses in the neighborhood but don’t think we can afford to get rid of manufacturing. The city is going to dry up and people are going to go out of the state for their businesses. To me, Ridgewood was never given a chance. We never had an IBZ to support us.”
For now, the fate of SOMA is uncertain until the board reconvenes in July for a vote.