Coney Island Rezoning Fails Following Community Concerns

Illustrative rendering of applicant’s proposed five- and twelve-story development between West 22nd and West 23rd Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn. Image Credit: CPC.

City Planning voted no in part to questions regarding alleged comments made by project attorney at Community Board hearing. On January 9, 2019, the City Planning Commission voted to disapprove a proposed rezoning of the northern portion of a block situated between Surf Avenue to the north, Reigelman Boardwalk to the south, West 22nd Street to the east, and West 23rd Street to the west, in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The rezoning would have allowed for a new five- and twelve-story mixed-use building with retail and 78 dwelling units, 20 of which would have been permanently affordable. A public hearing on this application was held on December 5, 2018.

The applicant, West 16-22 Properties, LLC, was seeking several actions from City Planning to facilitate the proposed rezoning. The applicant sought two zoning text amendments: (1) to extend the Special Coney Island District over the proposed rezoning area and to designate it as a new parcel, “H” within the special district, and (2) to establish the area as Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. The southern portion of this block is already mapped as part of the Special Coney Island District.

The applicant also sought zoning map amendments, including residential upzoning to allow for a larger building envelope and commercial uses, and to map the area within a Transit Zone, so that parking requirements would be regulated by the Special Coney Island District. The rezoning area would have been comprised of 25 lots, five of which are owned by the applicant.

Currently, this area supports a mix of residential, commercial, and vacant buildings. The applicant’s lots contain a mix of one- to three-story and multi-family buildings as well as one vacant lot. The applicant’s buildings are home to a total of 37 apartments, a majority of which are rent-regulated, requiring adherence with the Housing and Community Renewal guidelines on proper notice and tenant relocation in case of demolition.

According to the applicant, this area was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy and of the 20 non-applicant owned lots subject to the rezoning, 12 are vacant and in need of the rezoning to encourage development.

On October 24, 2018, the Brooklyn Community Board 13 held a public hearing on the application, following disapproval by the Community Board’s Land Use Committee on October 3, 2019. At the full Community Board meeting, members expressed concerns over the future of the tenants in applicant’s buildings as well as tenants in the non-applicant owned buildings that would likely be at a threat of displacement as the locations became attractive for further development.

Map of proposed rezoning area shown in checkered black and grey, with the applicant’s development site outlined in red. Image Credit: CPC.

The Community Board questioned the size of the proposed rezoning area and why the application was not just to rezone the applicant’s five lots. The Community Board was concerned that the other property owners would benefit from the upzoning, and build significantly higher buildings without further public review and approval.

The Community Board’s meeting minutes of October 24, 2018, provide that the applicant’s attorney, Richard Lobel, told the Community Board that they could vote to approve the project with a stipulation that the rezoning only encompass the applicant’s five lots, not the entire 25 lots. The Community Board instead voted to disapprove the proposed project, with 23 opposed, three in favor, and zero abstaining.

On November 30, 2018, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams issued a recommendation to disapprove the project over concerns which largely echoed those of the Community Board. They included displacement of the applicant-controlled 37 rent-regulated units and the undisclosed risk of residential displacement of the non-applicant controlled sites based on the Environmental Assessment Statement finding of seven projected development sites, in addition to the applicant’s five.

At the December 5, 2018, public hearing with the City Planning Commission, discussions over the future of the tenants continued, with Richard Lobel and David Rosenberg assuring the Commission that tenants in applicant’s buildings would be appropriately accommodated by the applicant, in compliance with the DHCR rules.

Chair Marisa Lago was disturbed to read alleged remarks made by Lobel at the Community Board meeting, reported in a Brooklyn Paper article, saying that he would rezone the area as small as possible, but the Department [of City Planning] made him [rezone a larger area].  Chair Lago also asked what assurances would be made by the applicant team that the rezoning would not result in a “donut-hole” as had occurred with the South Portland Rezoning, in which a proposed rezoning of eight zoning lots ultimately resulted in the rezoning of only one. Lobel was the representing attorney on that project.

In response, Lobel stated that conversations regarding the rezoning area size were extensive with the Community Board. The applicant team explained to the Community Board that 50 percent of the Surf Avenue frontage and 70 percent of the West 22nd street frontage was vacant, resulting in a blighted block that was unsafe and contributed nothing to the area. Community Board’s response was that approval would not be granted given that the applicant cannot commit to the other sites that would be affected by the rezoning.

Lobel stated that his words were taken out of context in the article. He was explaining to the Community Board that as a financial matter and as a diligence matter, it would be in the applicant’s best interest to rezone a smaller area, as the applicant assumes a lot of the financial responsibility that goes with these kinds of rezonings, but this was wrongfully translated as Lobel saying that the Department made him choose a larger rezoning area than would be in the applicant’s interest.

Lobel concluded by saying that if the rezoning does not get approved, no development would take place, leaving the block in its blighted state for decades to come. He apologized for what was reported, but that he firmly believed that the attorney and the Department are partners and that he hopes for a successful outcome.

Chair Lago said she would not view it as a successful outcome to have just the applicant’s site rezoned given its irregular shape and location mid-block. Lobel reassured the Commission that including all of the 25 lots was important to the context of the area, as not upzoning this block would “not merit any redevelopment.” “It is not in our interest for a reduction in the scope of this rezoning… we are all in.”

Despite the assurances made at the hearing, the City Planning Commission voted to disapprove the application on January 9, 2019, with Commissioner de la Uz and Commissioner Ortiz abstaining from the vote, and Commissioner Levin disagreeing with the decision to disapprove. The reasons for disapproving were that the Commission could not ignore the facts on the ground, and Lobel’s reported statements that he would have liked to rezone the smallest area possible was an invalid land use rationale that did not merit the application’s approval.


By: Viktoriya Gray (Viktoriya is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2018).


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