The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dismantling and Zoning - Changes Already Underway

On my block there stood three old houses. Generally nicely kept, these old frame Victorians stood out, not just because the block is mostly big apartment buildings on that east end, but because of the yards and porches and big parking lot out back (probably once yards) rented for many years by neighborhood residents. The houses were on the market intermittently individually then collectively. You could have bought one for about $700,000 two years ago. But when the owner sold all three, she sold to a developer who plans a large building, as large as they can build successfully given the R6 zoning. One little hitch involves a covenant written into a deed that limits what can be built, so the developer is going to have to negotiate a settlement with the big buildings to its left and right. We'll see what happens. Basically, the whole block wonders what will happen when this thing goes in. Talk about change! Not much to be done but wait I guess. Right now, you can see the workers taking down the roof (pictured), often without the proper safety gear. Typical practice. There are slum developers and slum contractors just as their are slum lords.

Now as for the R6 thing that I just layed on you like I'm some sort of City Planner guy, I had to look that up on a map, a map that's available to any of you wanting to know what your zoning is. Just plop your address in here and you'll get a key to the map that shows your nabe, or rather part of OUR nabe. Then you'll need a glossary of the various zoning designations like the one here. It's not too hard to figure out from there, though they throw a lot of jargon at you that gets easier to decipher if you read ALL of the designations to get a sense of how they differ. The Residential districts start at 1 and go up to 10, and were you to DOWNzone a district you would move it from say R7 to R6. If you were to upzone it you'd go, say, R4 to R8 etc. Urban planners and architects are rolling their eyes, but hey, most of us have no clue about this stuff, so I'm explaining as I learn okay?

The area of Flatbush to the Park is zoned R7-1 (the one having to do with how much off-street parking you must provide). Lefferts Manor is an R2 - low buildings, low density. My block's an R6. The Flatbush Trees plaza is surprisingly the dumpiest of commercial designations, C8, which is like car washes and auto body shops. I guess there used to be a gas station there at some point, that's probably how that happened, or rather WHY that happened. Now it's a parking lot, used by the MTA, which has no right to be there (hey, we're working on changing that over at the CB, starting with a letter to vamoose from PLGNA)

What's it all mean, Mr. Green Jeans? Well it means that buildings like 626 Flatbush and the original big ol' glass tower that was going to go at 31 Lincoln a few years back are perfectly legal, because their FAR, which is basically how high you can build on a certain size lot, gives you the option to build pretty darn high. Were the neighborhood to decide, through the proper process, to CHANGE that designation, you'd only be able to build so high. There are actually ways to build higher in an R6 than the roughly 6 stories associated with it (the 6 stories and the R6 designationare kinda coincidental, but it makes it easier to remember) that have to do with creating a plane from street to sky, an angle as it were, but I'll leave that to those who know better about such things. Beyond just size of buildings and type, the City Planning folks can create incentives to developers to build certain kinds of housing. That could be very useful to proponents of more affordable living options.

That's pretty much the simplistic version that I'm reading. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

So all this talk about one "side" wanting development and the other "side" not wanting it and how much less tall is Patio Gardens than the new building at 626 and whether people protesting the old skyscraper plan on Lincoln had anything to do with anything and whether more people are for or against skyscrapers along Flatbush and whether poor means lower middle class or what affordable actually all comes down to zoning. There haven't been any zoning changes around here in decades. What IS relevant is that the process is ALREADY in motion. Some folks came to CB9's ULURP committee last month and proposed downzoning the Flatbush and Ocean areas from R7 to R6. That will go through committee and be drafted as a motion and the committee will either vote for or against and if it's approved then it will be brought before the full Community Board for a vote. It's the old ye who gets the first motion into the chairman gets to write the language thing, from Robert's rules or some such thing.

Folks, that's what's happening. You snooze, you lose. Or rather, there's still plenty of time for you to do some research about how other neighborhoods are dealing with R7 vs R6 zonings, or talk to developers about what can and can't be built to whatever specifications you may have in mind. And you can form a group in favor or opposed and perhaps wheel in some experts on the subject. Or not. But it's on the table, and probably not coming off anytime soon.

And yes, it's too late to stop 626, if that's what you want to do. No one I've spoken to who seems to know what they're talking about would disagree with that assessment. UNLESS of course, the new mayor wants to take it on as a pet project. The Mayor is the Big Cheese in this town, with all the real muscle, and could actually stop a process in motion. Quite unlikely, but that's the only scenario I can imagine.

In the meantime, let's all relax a bit, because the difference between R7 and R6 isn't so great, and isn't going to stop development. What we're talking about essentially is height. And if what you really want around here is tall buildings, not just more or better ones, then get your best game face on and get to work. You'll probably face some stiff competition from those who want to limit height. But I don't think they want to limit development itself. Or at least, that's not what I've heard anyone say yet.

And as the picture above is meant to illustrate, as well as countless posts I've done in the past, big D development is here in a big way whether you count 6, 10, 16 or 43.5% higher 23 stories into the sky.


Anonymous said...

Sounds super reasonable, Tim - thank you for the summary. Any zoning changes coming to Empire, too?


Clarkson FlatBed said...

Alex. It's currently (no offense to Wendy's or gas stations) a junk zoning, there's really not much hope of changing to, say, housing, or anything like that, unless we change zoning there too.

Someone, or some group, should submit a motion to change that zoning as well from, I believe, C8.

We could really use some leadership from the Council members on this one (incoming Cumbo and incumbent Eugene) and incoming BP Eric Adams, and hopefully the Mayor as well, do attract investment in the area. This includes, btw, the Phat Albert building, which in my opinion is better suited to mixed use, res and commercial, than its current hodge podge of businesses.

But what do I know? Again...leadership is lacking.

Anonymous said...

So would it be the same ULURP/CB process to change the C8 zoning around Empire to R7? Or is it not possible to switch use designations also? The Bond Bakery building (Phat Alberts) and the beer distributor building are also C8. That's why that pawn shop was allowed to set up. It'd be great to change the zoning of that area to something that allowed mixed residential and commercial uses, and which would phase out big surface lots and fast food drivethrus while still encouraging commerce.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Now you're talking turkey. A small group of "concerned citizens" could come before ULURP and ask to do just that. I'm trying to say here that really is how it works, and it's how it's worked all throughout the City. I can't say you'll be successful, but that's what you do.

babs said...

In other Clarkson Ave development news, the sale of 149 Clarkson just hit public records. It was sold for $660K to an LLC based in south Williamsburg.

It's frame house next to an alleyway that runs between it and a large apartment building.

Somehow I doubt the buyers intend to live in it. More Fedders crap here we come?