(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.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Building's Too Damn High - Cumbo Agrees
In the end, it's the Council Member's vote that counts. And rather than wait til further along the process, Laurie Cumbo followed up yesterday's scoping meeting on 960 Franklin with a clear statement of vision. She's not going to nix the rezoning outright; but she's going to stand by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Now, will that be their shadow study, the developer's, or some outside group's? We don't know. If I had to gamble now, I'll bet we get a 25-story building, not nearly 40.
But it's great to see the Member's direct involvement. Even if this is all political theater, it's the kind of theater we need right about now.
Whether it’s an 80-story tower on Flatbush Avenue or a private equity firm purchasing an entire portfolio of historic buildings in Bed-Stuy, real estate development pressure in my district seems to increase by the day, threatening to transform our neighborhoods into a cookie-cutter luxury product unrecognizable to longtime Brooklyn residents and familiar only to those living in Anytown, USA. Market-rate apartments are priced far above what most community residents can pay and sometimes even the so-called “affordable” housing has rents over $2,000 a month. And all of this new development has a cumulative impact, placing increasing stress on our infrastructure – our schools, our parks, our subways, our roads, our sewage lines, and everything else. The current pattern of real estate investment and development in Central Brooklyn is clearly not serving our existing communities in an inclusive and holistic way.
At first impression, a project that proposes “50 percent affordable housing” and touts 100% union labor and union financing sounds like a much-needed improvement. And while these commitments to good jobs with livable wages both during and post-construction cannot be overlooked, we are also faced with Downtown Brooklyn-sized towers overshadowing the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park, shattering all precedent for height and scale.
This proposal, developed with zero community consultation or input, may need a full reset, not just tinkering around the edges. But for now, I’ll go through point by point on my numerous areas of deep concern.
Height and Shadows
The large soon-to-be vacant “Spice Factory” does indeed represent an opportunity to bring much needed truly affordable housing to Crown Heights. But that should not give a developer carte blanche to propose 40-story downtown-style glass towers in the middle of this community.
While there is some precedent in Tivoli Towers and the Ebbets Field apartments for building larger towers to bring affordable housing to this part of Crown Heights, the 960 Franklin proposal would rise far above even these buildings.
Indeed, there is no precedent for zoning higher than R8 anywhere outside Downtown Brooklyn. In December, I approved a rezoning just north of this site to R8X, allowing 17 stories roughly in line with the surrounding zoning and bringing an extra nearly 100 units of deeply affordable housing beyond the developer’s MIH at an included non-profit development site. Comparing this proposal to that one is apples and oranges. To even consider a development of this size and scale outside of Downtown Brooklyn, the public benefits would have to be massive and the site uniquely appropriate.
This location immediately to the east of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s conservatory greenhouses may actually be an inappropriate location for a development of this size.
Let me be perfectly clear – I will not support any proposal that would substantively harm the operations of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The garden’s conservatory greenhouses and nursery are a jewel of Brooklyn – a jewel that needs to be preserved.
The EIS should go beyond the CEQR standards by analyzing shadows in every month of the year and studying the potential impacts on the specific collections of the garden and the operations of its nursery.
Density and Impacts on Local Infrastructure
Height and shadow are not my only concern – there is also the issue of the overall density of the project and the proposed addition of over 3,000 new residents to the neighborhood in an additional 1,500 apartments. According to Census Data, this would increase the population in a quarter mile radius of the site (roughly bounded by the Botanic Garden, Union Street, Rogers Avenue, and Lefferts Avenue) by over 20%. Indeed, this project is so large that the EAS flags potentially significant impacts on schools, libraries, child care, transportation, and many other areas.
With a project of this size, we need to take a careful look at potential impacts on transit service in particular – our subways and buses – to make sure we do what we need to improve transit access including potential ADA improvements at the adjacent subway stations.
The prospect of adding such a massive new development without comprehensive consideration for its integration into the fabric of the neighborhood is of great concern. The developer should be proactive in proposing measures to address these impacts and not simply wait for the environmental review to identify the bare minimum thresholds.
Residential Affordability and Residential Displacement
The murky status of the legal commitment to affordability beyond MIH is also a real concern. The scoping materials state that an HPD regulatory agreement will be negotiated and executed, but at what point in the process will this happen? Since it is not part of the zoning like MIH, is it truly guaranteed? Will it be permanent? None of that is clear.
Unbelievably, none of the materials that are the subject of this hearing include the Franklin Avenue rezoning approved in December 2018 just to the north of this site. The maps and all narrative descriptions show the prior R6A zoning extending up Franklin Avenue. Of course, the projected impacts of the R8X development with a total of over 500 units must be taken into account cumulatively with the impacts of development at the 960 Franklin site.
Alternative Development Scenarios
As currently proposed, there appears to be no firm guarantee that the developer will arrive at an agreement for HPD financing for the extra 20% of income-restricted units or be compelled to use the Special Permit that would enable the specific proposed design.
The application should be transparent with all possible outcomes including an R9D development scenario without the Special Permit – which would be a bulkier, squatter alternative, and a development without extra affordable housing above MIH.
For this location in particular, it is crucially important to understand all potential bulk scenarios and their impact on the shadows on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
The proposed rezoning would also include part of the MTA’s Franklin Avenue Shuttle rail beds, adding nearly 130,000 square feet of development rights to this parcel. With the MTA searching for potential revenues, it is not unfeasible that the MTA would seek to sell and transfer these development rights in the future and this scenario should be fully analyzed in the EIS.
In conclusion, Crown Heights Brooklyn deserves development that addresses our needs for affordable housing, community services, and infrastructure; fits the character and context of our historic community; and respects our institutions like the Botanic Garden. I urge the developers to drop this “take it or leave it” posture and work towards a more viable proposal and I look forward to hearing public input from my constituents on this project.