Planning moves to protect Brooklyn neighborhood

At least 30 speakers testified on proposal backed by residents and local elected officials. On June 4, 2008, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the Department of City Planning’s proposal to define an area of Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens as having “narrow streets” under the zoning law. The proposal would result in a lowering of the permitted building heights and densities, making as-of-right development consistent with neighborhood character. Currently zoned R6, with portions covered by a commercial overlay, the area consists mostly of three and four-story brownstones built in the mid-19th century. Two of the affected blocks lie within the Carroll Gardens Historic District.

Carroll Gardens, according to City Planning, has seen rising property values and out-of-context development due to permissive zoning. In response to community concerns, the proposal would apply to First through Fourth Places, between Henry and Smith Streets, as well as Second, Carroll, and President Streets between Smith and Hoyt Streets.

The affected streets have deep front garden courtyards, which the City Map includes in the measurement of the street widths. These streets are shown as 100 to 130 feet wide on the City Map, rendering them wide streets under the zoning law, which allows more permissive height, setback, and FAR provisions for streets over 75 feet in width. However, because of the courtyards, these streets function as narrow streets. According to City Planning, the total width of sidewalks and roadways on the streets is 50 feet.

The proposal seeks to change the height, setback, density, and FAR regulations so that they conform to the narrow street requirements. Specifically, the proposal would reduce the residential FAR from 3.0 to 2.2 and lower the maximum building height from 70 feet to 55 feet for developments pursuant to the Quality Housing program. For buildings developed under R6 height factor regulations, the proposal would increase the initial setback depth and result in a shallower sky exposure plane.

At the Commission public hearing, at least 30 people testified, with a substantial majority of speakers in support of the proposal. Among the homeowners in favor, Lucy DeCarlo, of the Coalition to Respectfully Develop, claimed she had 700 signed petitions in support of the proposal.

A representative for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz testified that the proposal would provide an interim solution until the City undertook an anticipated rezoning for the entire neighborhood, by removing some development rights while still allowing homeowners to build additions. Representatives for Council Member Bill de Blasio and State Senator Martin Connor, who represent the area, also offered their strong support for the proposal as a critical measure to protect quality of life.

Testifying in opposition, local resident Michael DiMeglio emphasized that the proposal would still allow out-of-context development up to 13 stories, provided a developer reduced a building’s footprint. A local developer, warned against approval without first clarifying the status of front yards in Carroll Gardens, noting that “nobody knows who owns them,” because the City Map shows the gardens as City property, but private owners maintain them. Salvatore Scotto, of the Carroll Gardens Association, also spoke in opposition, arguing that the proposal was not the right solution for a neighborhood that will soon need more affordable and senior citizen housing.

Attorney Margo Flug, of Greenberg Traurig LLP, testified in opposition on behalf of her client, William Stein, who is developing a 70-foot-tall residential building at 360 Smith Street, which the community criticized at the Commission hearing. Claiming that the proposal punished developers, Flug requested a modification to exempt her client’s development as it is subject to a transit easement and did not pose a threat to the neighborhood’s character.

While Commission Chair Amanda Burden stated that DiMeglio’s concern was valid, Commissioner Irwin Cantor expressed skepticism over claims that the proposal would cause developers to build higher than seven stories, noting that the floor area in such instances would be so small as to make the additional height unprofitable. In particular, he noted that the development at 360 Smith Street was unlikely to be taller than its planned seven stories, given the amount of foundation work already completed.

The Commission expects to vote on the proposal on July 2, 2008.

CPC: Hearing on Carroll Gardens Narrow Street/Wide Street Zoning Text Amendment (N 080345 ZRK) (June 4, 2008).

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