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.

Friday, February 7, 2014

I Lurp, ULURP, We All Lurp For Islip

Folks have been asking what went down at the ULURP (Universal Land Use Review Process) committee mtg this past Wednesday, and well, let's just say it got a bit convoluted and confusing by the end, so much so that I spent some time on Thursday and Friday tracking down folks from the meeting to double-check I got things right, and that the notes to the meeting were logged properly. Now that the dust is settled, I think it's all pretty clear, at least in my mind. It should have been clear to begin with, but the problem is...let me explain as simply and concisely as I can manage, since I'm by no means an expert and have had to ask experts at many steps along the way. And as always Pearl Miles is there to help guide the process along.

As I've been "reporting" here over the past few months, the building at 626 Flatbush has galvanized a sizable portion of Leffertsonians to confront what they see as an unwelcome (literal) development. The 23-story luxury tower (okay, 20% go to affordable housing due to public financing) on a previously six-story only stretch (okay, Patio Gardens being an exception) from Empire on down has struck many as out of context. It mirrors a previous star-crossed development that folks fought a few years back, a similarly-sized glass tower to go on Lincoln Road where the current more modest development is rising next to the Prospect Park Station. The economy killed that one, though the opponents specifically asked City Planning to rezone the area to prevent such future buildings. They said no, they're broke. Okay, we've got all that straight, right?

The reason 626 can build 23 stories is that the zoning, dating from WAY back, allows it. R7-1 they call it. The developer Hudson maxed out its legal ("as of right") options and built as tall as it could on the plot of land that they bought. And what could be wrong with that? Technically nothing. Accept for the fact that they received public financing which required an "environmental review" which should have included a detailed study of the effect of their building on the surrounding area. They clearly didn't do that. AND it's been brought to my attention that they didn't pay attention to other not so minor details, though it may just be technicalities unworthy of lawsuit. Folks are looking into that. Oh, and there IS a lawsuit.

So FAR so good. (that's a little zoning joke by the way, and if you got it, you're ready to slurp up some ULURP baby!)

Now comes the meeting on Wednesday. The group PPEN and others were there to demand immediate change to the zoning. Downzoning in fact, from R7-1 to something more contextual. That process, we learned through Richard Bearak of the Borough President's office, takes time. A good deal of time. And study. And money allocated by the City and affected council members. Enter ULURP process and blah blah blah. So, concurrent with this request, the group is asking (pretty please) for a moratorium on NEW construction that is not contextual. The committee figures the only way that can happen is by Mayoral decree, SO we all figured if you want something from the Mayor you might want to ask the new Borough President Eric Adams to go to bat, since (no offense sir) our council person don't know shit from shinola and certainly doesn't know how to lead on this kind of stuff (where was he, or at least a representative?) nor does he have any clout with anyone in City Hall anyway. (For more fun on him there's this from today. The bit about him is halfway through the column.) Given the fact that PPEN had written a letter asking Adams for the moratorium, and given the fact that he had vociferously voiced dismay at the tower, I figured I'd send him a note asking for a meeting and he politely agreed. A bunch of us are meeting with him sometime next week. Who knows what will come of it, but at least we'll make some noise and ask for attention and maybe even some kind of sanity to the building process. And it'll be nice to see our old friend Eric in his new digs!

Now here's where it gets kinda weird. At this very same meeting came a plea from the head of the Jewish Community Council of Crown Heights, Eli Cohen I believe, representing 60(!) synagogues in the NE quadrant of our Community Board 9 that is known as the international home of Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Hasidim, since that's where its beloved rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson led the sect out of 770 Eastern Parkway. (To those who go or are thinking of going to PS770 The New American Academy, the number was chosen by founder Shimon Waronker for that very reason. Hey, and the DoE gave it to him! What baitsim on that guy!).

What was ironic was that they were asking for UPzoning in their neck of the woods, from R2 and R4 to R6. A lengthy conversation ensued on precisely what this meant, and I've since come to understand that Jewish families living in mostly single and two-family dwellings along blocks like Carroll and Union east of New York Avenue have been trying desperately to add on to existing structures to accommodate bigger and bigger families, but they've not been allowed to do so by strict building enforcement. Mike Cetera, the ULURP committee chair "running" the meeting, explained that all sorts of creative means to maximize livable square footage have been employed, and it's to the point where many houses are practically R6 now by default. I don't know from R6, but I can certainly see the JCC's point. Though it's pretty much the OPPOSITE concern that you hear expressed by landmark districts! The JCC wants to build all manner of up and out to the classy old townhouses, and landmark folk want to keep them as is. It's a funny mixed up world. But like Rodgers and Hammerstein said, the Farmer and the Cowman can be friends. Or the Hassid and the Brownstoner can be friends. O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A Oklahoma. Yow! Or Crown Heights-Lefferts. Oy!

Folks from an area called Dodgertown (SE quadrant, like Winthrop out toward Utica Ave) want to downzone to preserve their cute houses (check 'em out some time) because ugly tall buildings have started to crowd in and they're worried about developers buying up two or three of their houses and putting them up right in the middle of their nifty development. Nostrand Avenue could soon look like a mini-4th Avenue in Park Slope without a downzone. In this hot market, anything is possible, and now, not later, is the time to get this process moving.

If you come to this month's full Community Board meeting, we'll be voting on whether to formally request the moratorium on new construction along Flatbush, and whether to add the JCC's recommendation and PPEN's recommendation to our proposed areas to be studied by the City Planning Commission. Other areas that need to be looked at, now's the time to do it. I'll try to post the newly developed zoning map as soon as possible so you can see where your area stands. But dag nabbit it'll only be for CB9. I wish I had three brains and six legs so I could do CB14 too, but I'm sure Ditmas Park Blog will keep us up to date on all that.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update pal, looking forward to that zoning map.

Bob Marvin said...

I don't see any problem with different approaches for different constituencies within the CB 9 area; downzoning for PLG and areas east, where that's supported and upzoning north of Empire, where residents want that.

During my short period of service as a CB 9 member a few years ago I was very concerned with getting support for the proposed Ocean on the Park Historic District. A number of representatives of the Lubavitcher community made it clear that they had no problem with supporting Historic Districts in PLG, but wouldn't do so in Crown Heights. That was fine; historic district designation only works when there's community support. I suppose zoning changes can be the same.

no_slappz said...

When walking down Flatbush Ave past Patio Gardens, does anyone look up and remark, 'oh, those buildings are just too tall"?

Do those who live in those buildings express disapproval of the buildings' height? Do those who live in the buildings have objectionable characters?

It's remarkable that a small group of people whose residence in the neighborhood will be much shorter than the life of the structures in which they live believe they know what's best for others, especially others who want to live on the upper floors of buildings like Patio Gardens.

The attitude of opponents to 626 Flatbush seems to say that people who want to live at a distance above the street aren't the kind of people who ought to live in the neighborhood, that there's something offensive about their desire to live so far above the reality of the street.

babs said...

There are some gorgeous houses in Crown Heights south, especially on President St and alng NY Ave. As Tim noted, Mr. Cetera has specialized in maxing out the existing FAR of many of these. A change in zoning would most likely lead to the destruction on many of them in order to build larger buildings, no doubt much less architecturally distinguished. This would be a shame.

babs said...

However, considering that our new Borough President has already said he is against land marking, as it restricts the supply of affordable housing (in his opinion) and given our Mayor's coziness with developers like Bruce Ratner (the reason I didn't vote for him) this is probably a done deal.

Bob Marvin said...

In a more perfect world, I'd love to see houses like those on President St., in Crown Heights S., landmarked, but Historic Districts don't work very well without the support of homeowners. There's plenty of that in our neighborhood and in Crown Heights N., but not between Eastern Parkway and Empire Blvd. While it would pain me to see those gorgeous houses destroyed or, more likely, re-muddled, that may be inevitable and, if supporting up-zoning in CHS should be necessary to get contextual zoning in PLG, so be it.

Unknown said...

I attended the ULURP meeting and want to add that Richard Bearak, who is Eric Adams' ULURP person, was there to offer CB9's ULURP Committee advice on rezoning issues. About the question of upzoning in the Crown Heights area, he suggested that the area be rezoned R-6B. The "B" indicates contextual zoning. It would limit buildings to a height, he said, of 50 feet or about four and a half stories. He expressed concern that without such a designation there might eventually be tower-like buildings in the area--as a developer could buy up enough property to go up rather than out. There was concern from Mike Cetera and others that an R-6B would limit some of the houses up there from expanding as much as some present owners would like because their houses were already built out too much (into backyards, I gather) to build any more additions even under R-6B. Richard Bearak replied that if the area was zoned R-6B, exceptions for particular houses with this problem of having already maxed out their building area could be included into the new zoning code for the area.

lifeonlincoln said...

ULURP...I thought it was 'uniform' not 'universal'

babs said...

Here are some photos of the houses on President St that are likely to be destroyed or horribly altered if the zoning is changed: