Community Board and Borough President in agreement about a slightly smaller zoning designation. On January 8, 2020, the City Planning Commission heard an application by EMP Capital Group to rezone a portion of two blocks fronting on the corner of Grand Avenue and Pacific Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The rezoning would help facilitate the development of a nine-story mixed-use building at 979-985 Pacific Street. The applicant is represented by Richard Lobel of Sheldon Lobel P.C.
The nine-story mixed use building is planned for the north side of Pacific Street which is surrounded by either vacant or two to-three story buildings with commercial or industrial uses. The development site itself is currently vacant. The project anticipates ground floor commercial uses and roughly 64 housing. Approximately sixteen of the 64 units would be dedicated to affordable housing under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (“MIH”) Option 1. MIH Option 1 mandates that 25 percent of the housing units offered average to 60 percent Area Median Income. For a family of three, 60 percent AMI equates to about $57,660 per year. According to the Borough President’s report the development would have thirteen studios, 35 one-bedroom units and sixteen two-bedroom units.
The proposed façade will be mainly composed of brick but will also feature a black metal façade on the top floor addition to pay homage to the area’s manufacturing aesthetic. In addition, the applicants are seeking to place a mural on one façade of the development. They plan to host a contest for local artist to determine who will paint the mural.
The area is currently zoned for manufacturing use as an M1-1 district, and generally permits one-story industrial buildings and light industrial uses such as wholesale services and storage facilities. The applicants are requesting an R7D zoning designation which permits residential use and building heights between 10 to 11-stories tall. The requested commercial overlay would permit ground floor commercial uses.
A key component of this application is Brooklyn Community Board 8’s M-Crown rezoning recommendation. The M-Crown Project seeks to facilitate a large scale rezoning of a manufacturing zoned area that has received limited investment and has a multitude of vacant properties. The M-Crown area is just south of Atlantic Avenue in Crown Heights. The Community Board believes the rezoning and a slight increase in Floor Area Ratio (“FAR”) will lead to a revitalization of the area while retaining the existing industrial businesses. The M-Crown rezoning hopes to encourage new business to locate in the area and create opportunities for affordable housing. The anticipated M-Crown uses include industrial, commercial, multifamily residences and retail uses on the first floor (except food stores). Prohibited uses include hotels, self-storage warehouses and infrastructure uses such as parking lots and pumping stations. With special permits, the community board might allow non-industrial commercial uses such as large-scale retail, office use, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues.
In their presentation Elie Pariente, a representative of EMP Capital Group, said that the applicants feel that this development can serve as an entrance to the M-Crown neighborhood. It would be the first building in the neighborhood and the art mural on the side of the building will create a “healthy neighborhood feel.”
The applicant team pointed out that in May 2019, and just down the street, the commission approved the 1010 Pacific Street rezoning. In the 1010 Pacific Street rezoning, the applicants requested the same R7D residential zoning designation as EMP Capital Group is requesting here. The R7D designation allows heights from 10 to 11-stories or 115 feet. Ultimately, 1010 Pacific Street’s requested R7D zoning designation was modified to a slightly smaller R7A designation. R7A designations only permit building heights up to 9-stories or 95 feet. EMP Capital Group and its representatives argued that this modification is not necessary here, because 1010 Pacific Street was on the mid-block portion of the lot and 979-985 Pacific Street is on the corner along Grand Ave. Admittedly, EMP Capital’s proposed project would not exceed the height of the smaller designation, but the applicants want the flexibility to change the number of stories.
Reports and Comments
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams disapproved of the application with modifications and conditions. While Adams supports the development of underutilized land for productive uses like affordable housing, he was concerned about the applicant’s choice of the R7D higher residential zoning designation. Borough President Adams believed the R7A designation would be more appropriate because it would truly limit the development to 9-stories. Adams also stated he would be more supportive of the project if the Community Board or City Planning could obtain a commitment from the developer to not build higher than 9-stories and limit the commercial uses to the M-Crown framework uses. Borough President Adams would also like the applicants to maximize community participation in the affordable housing and to conduct outreach that might provide senior housing in the development. He did not have issue with the requested parking waivers due to sufficient public transportation in the area, including the Long Island Rail Road, the subway and multiple bus lines.
Brooklyn Community Board 8 gave a detailed report and also attended the public hearing. In their report, the Community Board disapproved the application by twenty-seven to one unless a few conditions could be met. First, the Board felt that the R7A designation would be more appropriate for the lot. The Board also wanted the applicant to limit the ground floor uses to certain M-Crown use groups which include caterers, laboratories, printers, studios, motion picture production studios, radio/television studios, limited commercial art galleries and certain food/alcohol establishments. The Community Board also sought a commitment to not build higher than 9-stories. The Board did recognize that the proposal currently fits within the M-Crown framework, but the R7D designation might allow a future proposal outside the M-Crown framework.
At the public hearing, Community Board Member Gib Veconi expressed the exact concerns that were in the Community Board Report. Veconi also expressed frustration with the Department of City Planning’s lack of attentiveness to the M-Crown rezoning. He claimed the inability to get the rezoning accomplished has brought multiple private ULURP applications, like this one. He also stated that community stakeholders continue to be frustrated not knowing how much longer the M-Crown rezoning could take.
Chair Marisa Lago praised Community Board 8 for strong leadership and their attention to detail, stating it “helps the Department and Commission make informed decisions.”
*UPDATE: City Planning approved this application on February 5, 2020.*
By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)