Borough President is critical of the proposed residential upzoning as part of zoning changes to build an office building. On October 17, 2018, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on an application for 29-37 Jay Street in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. The applicant is the Foreman family, who have had a multi-generational history in DUMBO as manufacturers of decorative pressed metal products. The applicant was represented by Melanie Meyers of Fried Frank and Jonathan Marvel of Marvel Architects. The applicant is proposing to build an 11-story office building with a lobby and three retail stores on the ground floor, at the corner of Jay and Plymouth streets. The proposed building would be 148 feet tall, without a setback, and an approximate 189,000 square feet.
The project site is located within the DUMBO historic district. The applicant needs approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission for both the demolition of an existing 2-story brick warehouse and the design of the new building, in addition to the proposed zoning changes. On September 25, 2018, Landmarks held a public hearing on the project and recommended that the applicant change the building design and return at a later date. To read CityLand coverage of the Landmarks hearing, click here.
The site is in a manufacturing and residential zone as part of a special mixed-use zoning district, which permits commercial, light industrial, and residential uses within the same area. Although the applicant could build a building of the same proposed size under the existing zoning, only two floors could be used as office space with the rest of the floors as residential space. Also, current zoning requires that the building would have to be set back at the ninth floor or 85 feet.
The applicant therefore proposes two zoning changes. The first zoning change would rezone the western portion of a block bounded by Bridge Street, Jay Street, John Street, and Plymouth Street in Brooklyn to provide for a 10.0 commercial FAR. This will permit the entire 11-story building to be used as office space. However, the proposed plan, could allow for at least a portion of the development to be used for residential use, which could possibly result in an increased building height should the developers plans change. The second zoning change would change the existing setback requirement so that the building could go up to its proposed height of 148 feet without a setback and match the building across the street at 20 Jay Street.
On August 27, 2018, Brooklyn Community Board 2 recommended approval for the proposed zoning changes.
On October 5, 2018, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams issued a letter of conditional approval with respect to the zoning changes. The Borough President expressed that, while he recognized the demand for commercial space in this area, he was concerned that the applicant’s proposed zoning changes would introduce a possibility that the applicant could change their mind and instead build a taller residential building than would be permitted under the existing zoning. Borough President Adams made several recommendations that included that unless the applicant enters into a legally binding agreement to build only a commercial building, the proposed zoning changes be disapproved by City Planning. The Borough President also suggested that the proposed zoning change not allow any residential plan to exceed the height of the present plan of 11-stories.
The Borough President also asked that the City Council, during their consideration, obtain a written commitment from the applicant to set aside a portion of the ground floor for local, non-profit organizations such as arts or cultural entities at below-market lease terms; that the applicant integrate additional sustainability measures such as solar panels, rain gardens, and blue, green, or white roof treatment; and that the applicant hire Brooklyn-based contractors and subcontractors, especially those designated as Local Business Enterprises and Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises.
At the City Planning Commission hearing, the Commissioners asked the applicants to respond to Borough President Adams’ concerns. The applicant team stated that they had no intentions of building a residential building. As to sustainability measures, the applicant team advised that they are planning to put a white roof as recommended by the City and a glazing system that would minimize the need for artificial light. As to the proposed ground floor occupants, the applicant team stated that they hope to have retail and small-scale organizations which could include not-for-profit or cultural organizations as long as it was economically feasible.
Debra Schaffer, a neighborhood resident, testified in opposition to the project. She expressed that the building was too large for the mostly residential neighborhood and stated the applicant’s requested setback changes would interfere with the light and air of neighbors. Schaffer also commented on the likely overcrowding at the nearby subway station and resulting traffic, among other issues.
Chris Martin testified on behalf of the DUMBO Improvement District, in support of the project. According to Martin, an office building would be a welcomed addition to this neighborhood as there has been an increased demand for commercial space due to its proximity to Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Martin further stated that the addition of an office building would provide job opportunities to area residents.
Norabelle Greenberger testified on behalf of Phillip, Habib and Associates to answer environmental review questions. Based on the preliminary studies of existing buildings done, the impact of the office building on the subway and other traffic issues was not so extensive as to require a thorough traffic analysis.
City Planning will vote on this application at a later date.
By: Viktoriya Gray (Viktoriya is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2018.)