Ridgewood is at a crossroad. An industrial sliver that makes up five blocks of the neighborhood is one step closer to becoming an Industrial Business Zone but there are those who feel preventing building owners from going residential will hold the area back economically.
The Land Use Services Committee and the economic development subcommittee of Community Board 5 met with other local officials on Myrtle Avenue on July 1 to decide the fate of the industrial portion of Ridgewood.
The resolution that was passed that night and again at the board meeting last week, could very well be a historical harbinger for the future face of Ridgewood.
Attended by board Chairman Vincent Arcuri, members rejected a proposal which would have made the contested land south of Myrtle Avenue a new residential haven. The committees instead voted to recommend designating land situated between Irving and Wyckoff avenues, north of Decatur Street, to remain a manufacturing area.
As an IBZ, all businesses within the area will have the option to receive incentives and support, though the amount of support has decreased since Mayor Bloomberg dismantled the Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses he created in 2005.
Three local property owners were hoping to construct new housing on the land south of Myrtle Avenue, which would have required a rezoning of the area.
Such a move would have emulated such nearby neighborhoods as Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Bushwick, in Brooklyn, which have undergone extensive expansions of their residential sectors over the last 10 years.
Since World War II more than 800,000 manufacturing jobs have left New York City.
“Businesses provide jobs for the community,” said Nancy Carin, executive director of the Business Outreach Center Network, which provides services to the IBZ. “Niche markets, innovative businesses and manufacturers of customized goods would do very well in Ridgewood.”
But the argument has been made that the ever-shrinking industrial sector is becoming irrelevant and that building owners should be able to do as they wish with their properties, even if it means flipping the building.
The residential expansions which have taken place in Ridgewood’s immediate neighbors to the west were frequently made on previously vacant land. Ridgewood, however, presently does not possess many vacant lots.
“There will be new reassessments of what will be done concerning new manufacturing and housing here in Ridgewood,” said Ted Renz, director of the Ridgewood Local Development Corporation.
Jean Tanler, coordinator for the IBZ in Maspeth and director of Industrial Business Development for the Business Outreach Center Network, noted that gentrification is inevitable if the area is not added into the IBZ.
“Ridgewood is the next stop on the L train when it comes to residential expansion,” she said.
If residential areas are to be implemented in Ridgewood, local zoning criteria will have to be amended. Older housing and some manufacturing facilities may have to be demolished.
Should this happen, younger people would likely be the first predominant group of newcomers to move into Ridgewood, as they have done in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. Trendy new housing, coffee shops and pricey hotels would most likely take the place of factories and older housing.
The reason being: building owners have found that landlords and commercial business owners are likely to pay much more to rent space. As many of the industrial businesses in Ridgewood make less money than big box stores and developers, they are often forced to go out of business when the rent gets too high.
In less than a decade residential expansion in Brooklyn has been moving due east. Now it is pressing upon the borders of Ridgewood.
But there are areas that have found a healthy medium so that young adults and manufacturers can reside in peace.
“We are pleased that we are part of an industrial business zone,” said Gayle Baron, president of the Long Island City Business Improvement District. “The manufacturer industries have really been the backbone of the area and when you have a large area like Long Island City, you can cohabitate.”
Though the IBZ was created to protect manufacturers, there are many loopholes that allow residential, hotels and big box stores to settle in these areas. According to the New York Industrial Retention Network —which has since been consolidated to the Pratt Center—from January 2005 to August 2007, there were 587 cases in IBZ and Ombudsman zones (areas adjacent to IBZs that receive services but do not guarantee against residential development) where the plots changed to nonindustrial use.
Baron said this is merely a sign that the city is evolving and that compromises from both sides are essential.
“It’s not a black or white, right or wrong situation regarding industrial companies and residential,” she said. “There is room for both. Job creation is really vital but we like the fact there’s a balance.”
Now that CB 5 has passed the resolution, the proposal will go before the Economic Development Corporation’s Industrial Business Zone Committee where a final decision will be made.
When the vote will occur is unclear as the EDC would not return calls for comment.