Sunset Park rezoning challenge dismissed

Community groups had claimed City should have conducted a detailed environmental review for 128-block rezoning. In April 2009, the Department of City Planning proposed a 128-block rezoning in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The rezoning sought to prevent out-of-scale development in the residential neighborhood by applying contextual zoning districts, establishing height limits, and mapping commercial overlays on appropriate blocks to match the area’s built character. The plan included applying the City’s Inclusionary Housing Program provisions to create affordable housing and increase residential density along two targeted corridors.

Planning conducted an environmental assessment of the proposal and issued a negative declaration. Planning determined that the rezoning would have no significant effect on the environment, and on September 30, 2009, the City Council approved the rezoning.

The Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, residents, and a group of churches challenged the City’s determination that the rezoning would have no significant environmental impacts. The coalition argued that the rezoning would create opportunities to demolish buildings, develop more market-rate housing, raise neighborhood rents, and accelerate the displacement of low-income tenants. The coalition claimed that the initial environmental assessment contained errors, including failing to consider that lots with six or more residential units and lots under 5,000 sq.ft. were susceptible to development.

Justice Michael D. Stallman dismissed the challenge, ruling that the City had taken a “hard look” at the relevant areas of environmental concern. The City persuasively explained that buildings with six or more units that were built prior to 1974 were excluded from the assessment because they were difficult to demolish due to tenant relocation requirements. The City also explained that owners of small lots were typically unable to build up to the permitted floor area because building code requirements made it financially infeasible.

Chinese Staff & Workers’ Ass’n v. Burden, Index No. 111575/09 (N.Y.Cty.Sup.Ct. Apr. 9, 2010) (Stallman, J.).

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