Brooklyn’s Special 4th Avenue District approved

Special district created to eliminate blank walls and curb cuts and promote pedestrian uses. On November 29, 2011, the City Council approved the Department of City Planning’s proposal to establish the Special 4th Avenue Enhanced Commercial District in Brooklyn. The special district encompasses portions of 56 blocks along 4th Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and 24th Street in Brooklyn’s Park Slope and South Park Slope neighborhoods.

The 4th Avenue commercial corridor was historically characterized by auto-oriented businesses and low-rise rowhouses with ground floor retail. Recent rezonings in the area included portions of 4th Avenue and led to the development of higher density residential buildings along the corridor. Many of the buildings include parking garage entrances or blank walls on their ground floors, creating an uninviting streetscape. Planning proposed the special district to establish regulations designed to create a more appealing streetscape for pedestrians. 

For new developments and enlargements within the special district, commercial uses must occupy at least 50 percent of a building’s ground floor frontage. The special district regulations prohibit from the required commercial space certain uses otherwise permitted by the underlying zoning, such as banks and loan offices. Glass or other transparent materials must be used for at least 50 percent of the building’s frontage between a height of two and twelve feet. Curb cuts will only be permitted for interior zoning lots with widths of at least 60 feet that are not accessible by a side street.

At the City Planning Commission’s hearing in September 2011, Richard Bearak, representing Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, asked the Commission to expand the types of prohibited ground floor businesses and to lower the minimum height for ground floor windows. Bearak also asked the Commission to apply the City’s inclusionary housing program to the special district. Local Council Member Brad Lander reiterated Markowitz’s requests. The Commission modified the proposal to lower the window height, but found the other recommendations to be outside the scope of the proposal. 8 CityLand 153 (Nov. 15, 2011).

At the Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee hearing, Borough President Markowitz testified in support of the proposal, but reiterated his recommendations. Markowitz noted that his office had convened a task force on 4th Avenue’s transformation and had allocated $2 million toward the restoration of the 4th Ave/9th Street subway station. Council Member Lander urged his colleagues to approve the special district, but was concerned that the potential remained for a conglomeration of medical offices along the corridor, which he believed would hinder future retail development. Acknowledging that applying the inclusionary housing program to the district was outside the scope of the proposal, Lander said that he hoped Planning would revisit the issue.

The Subcommittee voted unanimously to approve the special district, as did the Land Use Committee and full Council.

Council: Special 4th Avenue Enhanced Commercial District (Nov. 29, 2011).

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