As Pfizer seeks to sell its 15-acre plant site in Williamsburg to a private developer, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the chairman of the Assembly’s housing committee, is pressing the pharma giant on affordable housing.
Mr. Lopez, also the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, has been circulating a draft bill to acquire the site through eminent domain, and now his office is organizing a group of community leaders to add pressure on Pfizer.
His spokesman, Stephen Levin, sent us a statement from the group, calling itself the Coalition for Responsible Development of Williamsburg, which claims that Pfizer, in looking to create a mixed-income development (the company hasn’t offered specifics as to how much affordable housing will be included) as opposed to one for low- and moderate-income residents, has its priorities in the wrong places (i.e. on money).
Pfizer has said that affordability and jobs are top priorities for the company as it seeks and selects a developer, and it has blasted the potential use of eminent domain to take the land.
Though the decision to introduce the bill seems to be based on the desire to grab attention and put pressure on Pfizer more than it is based on an actual desire to invoke eminent domain—even if Mr. Lopez were able to get the support of the Assembly, the legislation would almost certainly fail in the Senate.
With that said, Mr. Levin told us Mr. Lopez plans to introduce the bill in the coming weeks.
Release from the coalition is below, and below that is a statement from Pfizer given to us earlier this month.
**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**
Pfizer Continues to Resist Affordable Housing Development at Williamsburg, Brooklyn Site
In January 2007 Pfizer announced plans to phase out its Williamsburg manufacturing plant, consequently eliminating 600 jobs. Pfizer recently issued a private RFP to dispense of their property in Williamsburg which the global company claims addresses stated community needs. In response to this RFP, Assemblyman Vito Lopez and a coalition of Senators and Assembly members have introduced legislation to gain state control of this land through the use of eminent domain. The benefits of this legislation are as follows:
· Guarantee long term housing affordability for local residents
· Guarantee community input in the redevelopment process
· Guarantee local economic development
· Guarantee timely site remediation
Some have suggested that the intrusion of eminent domain when Pfizer has produced its own RFP is unreasonable. However, for the global drug company to produce their own private redevelopment plan under the guise of affordability and superficial community involvement is outrageous. Pfizer appears to be capitalizing on the continued increases in market rates rents as Williamsburg’s real estate continues to grow in popularity.
Local non-profits, elected officials, community residents, Columbia University, and the Department of City Planning have invested over two years in the production of a comprehensive development plan for the Pfizer site and surrounding City-owned land. Throughout this process, facts have been acquired that directly contradict Pfizer’s public statements:
Myth: Pfizer has stated that affordable housing is a primary objective for site redevelopment.
Fact: Pfizer has failed to define the terms of their affordability, and has only solicited proposals from private developers looking to maximize profit margins. The company’s definition of affordability in no way matches the annual income of working class New Yorkers, nor the low and moderate incomes of Williamsburg residents. A coalition of non-profits and elected officials, in conjunction with the Columbia University Department of Urban Planning and Department of City Planning has produced a plan which includes:
· 40% housing units at 50% AMI or $35,450 for a family of 4
· 40% housing units at 80% AMI or $56,720 for a family of 4
· 20% housing units up to 120%
AMI or $85,080 for a family of 4
Myth: Pfizer states that they have been in continual dialogue with the surrounding community and elected officials.
Fact: The CEO of Pfizer has repeatedly refused to meet with elected officials and a coalition of community groups and not-for-profits that represent the Williamsburg site. In addition, in a letter sent to community leaders, Pfizer has stated that their primary “responsibility [is] to our shareholders. [Shareholders will] consider all potential/redevelopment scenarios…” Pfizer’s main objective is to dispense of the site for maximum profit.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND JOB CREATION
Myth: Pfizer has stated that they are committed to job retention and local economic development.
Fact: For the past 15 years Pfizer has repeatedly divested from the Williamsburg community as well as sites all over the country. The systematic disinvestment from Brooklyn has resulted in the loss of over 3,000 jobs. In addition, Pfizer has repeatedly declined to meet with the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center and the United Jewish Organization to discuss a locally implemented business incubator on the Williamsburg site.
Myth: Pfizer asserts that they have contributed to the clean up of all of their sites
Fact: While Pfizer has remediate much of their land to commercial standards, they have likely contributed to the groundwater contamination in the surrounding areas, causing environmental concerns and potential remediation costs for local residents and landowners.
COMMITMENT TO RESPONSIBLE DEVELOPMENT
Myth: Pfizer has expressed a commitment to the responsible redevelopment of the Williamsburg site.
Fact: If Pfizer was committed to responsible redevelopment, the global giant would donate their land back to the State as they have in all other instances of US and UK disinvestment. Further, Pfizer, Inc has its roots in the Williamsburg community. The global corporation was founded in Williamsburg during the turn of the century. Simply selling the site to New York State would be a minimum commitment to the community from which this global corporation was born. Pfizer has the unique opportunity to continue to provide for the working class individuals that were its backbone for the past 150 years and create a new and innovative model for corporate responsibility.
While the sentiment of the Pfizer plan is appreciated, its private, non-binding plan does little to guarantee that Williamsburg residents will benefit from the site’s redevelopment. The use of Eminent Domain by the State of New York, which stipulates adequate compensation for land acquisition, would ensure that community residents would benefit indefinitely from the redevelopment of the site. While private development has little oversight, the State has a commitment to maximum affordability, transparency, and sustained community involvement. Without these safeguards it is unclear who will ultimately profit from the sale of the site, aside from the corporate giant, Pfizer, Inc.
STATEMENT FROM PFIZER REGARDING THE FUTURE RE-DEVELOPMENT OF THE COMPANY’S BROOKLYN PROPERTIES
(New York, NY – January 14, 2008): “In January of 2007, Pfizer made the very difficult decision to close its Brooklyn manufacturing plant by the end of 2008. Following the announcement of the plant’s closing, we began a pro-active outreach initiative to make local elected officials, neighborhood leaders and other area stakeholders aware of our efforts on behalf of our colleagues. This assistance included outplacement support, a retraining allowance, a five-year bridge to eligibility for any medical or retirement milestones, and severance pay based on years of service.
At the same time, Pfizer actively began to seek community input – from elected officials, civic leaders and local groups – on potential future plans for Pfizer’s Brooklyn properties. Pfizer owns approximately 15 acres of property in Brooklyn, which is comprised of its manufacturing plant and the plant’s adjacent parking lot south of Flushing Avenue, as well as three parcels and two smaller properties north of Flushing Avenue.
Over the past several months, and as a result of many productive meetings and conversations with Brooklyn leaders and residents, we have gained a better sense of the community’s concerns and desires and we are utilizing this information to help guide us in our redevelopment efforts. The message we heard loudly and clearly, from a wide range of diverse voices, was that affordable housing and jobs are pressing needs in the neighborhood and should be considered key priorities in any proposed future development of the Pfizer properties. We fully agree, and as a result of this important feedback, Pfizer has developed a set of objectives and principles that will guide our next steps in the redevelopment process.
These objectives/principles serve as the centerpiece of a Request for Proposals (RFP) that is being sent to a select group of developers to formulate preliminary proposals for the comprehensive re-development of the Pfizer Brooklyn properties. We believe the most prudent and effective course of action is to utilize the skills of real estate and development professionals to come up with potential concepts and plans that will both adhere to our stated objectives/principles and represent thoughtful, achievable development. The RFP requests that responses be consistent with the following guiding principles that are supported by Pfizer and other significant stakeholders within the local community:
* Housing opportunities that promote affordable options to New Yorkers of all income levels.
* Retail and neighborhood services that
support the existing population with scalability to match the requirements of neighborhood growth.
* New economic development opportunities; with an emphasis on job creation and seeding entrepreneurship.
* Outdoor public space and streetscape improvements all directed toward the establishment of a more welcoming and active pedestrian environment.
* An action plan to recruit minority and women businesses, contractors and subcontractors.
* Community-based partnerships to maximize the realization of stated redevelopment goals and objectives.
Once we have heard from experienced developers what ideas and scenarios are possible for the Pfizer properties – again, all within the context of our “big picture” principles – we will then be able to start evaluating specific plans and move toward the next phase of the re-development process. This will include selecting a developer/purchaser for the properties and continuing the critically important two-way conversation with the community.
In the meantime, all of us at Pfizer recognize just how important these properties are to both the surrounding neighborhoods and to the entire borough, and we remain committed to making the right decisions for a community we have proudly been a part of for more than 150 years.”