Planning Commission Approves Controversial Vinegar Hill Development

Original proposed nine-story building rendered by project architectual firm, think! architecture & design.

The City Planning Commission approved the construction of a controversial eight-story residential building in Brooklyn’s Vinegar Hill neighborhood. On May 10, 2017, the City Planning Commission issued a favorable report on an application from 251 Front Street Realty Inc. The project would result in a new residential building at 251 Front Street in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood. The applicant revised the proposal from a nine-story building to an eight-story building weeks before approval.

The applicant initially proposed an up-zoning from an R6B zoning district to an R7A district, and the designation of the project site as a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Area. That would result in an increase of the Floor Area Ratio allowed from 2.0 to 4.6, effectively doubling the allowed development rights. The original proposal sought to construct a nine-story building with 92 dwelling units, including 23 permanently affordable units. On April 19, 2017, after disapproval reports from the Community Board and the Borough President, the applicant revised the up-zoning request, instead seeking a change to an R6A zoning district, allowing 3.6 FAR. The revised application sought to construct an eight-story building with 72 dwelling units, including 18 permanently affordable units.

The development site is currently a 20,000-square-foot vacant lot on the corner of Front and Gold Streets. The site was once the home of the St. Anne’s Parish church, which was built in 1860 and demolished in the early 1990s. The site now operates as an open parking lot.

On February 8, 2017, Brooklyn Community Board 2 voted 34-3 to disapprove the application. In a letter to the Commission, the Community Board chastised the applicant’s decision to demolish the St. Ann’s Church, noting that the property may have been included in the historic district had the church remained. The Board opposed the initially opposed 95-foot tall building calling it simply too big and too tall. The Board implored the Commission to “not let the relatively modest number of affordable housing units be the rationale for a building that is wholly out of scale and character with the neighborhood into which it seeks to insert itself.

On March 15, 2017, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams issued a recommendation to disapprove the application. The Borough President cited the existing R6A district on Front Street as not supporting a new R7A district to be surrounded by a mix of R6A and R6B. The Borough President argued that an R7A zoning district would encourage more property owners to seek such up-zoning.

In its report, the Commission found the application to be appropriate. The Commission concurred with the Community Board and the Borough President concerning the initial R7A up-zoning and noted that the revised proposal “responds to some of the concerns . . . while still providing an opportunity for appropriate residential development with a requirement that would yield permanently affordable housing.”

The application will move to the City Council for consideration in the coming weeks.

CPC: 251 Front Street, Brooklyn (C150235ZMK; C150235ZMK) (May 10, 2017).

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is a CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).

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