Closing ‘wide’ loophole - Community Board 6 backs zoning text amendment

The Brooklyn Paper

Community Board 6 last week voted to recommend the approval of a zoning text amendment that supporters say could protect parts of Carroll Gardens from wildly oversized development.

The measure, called the Carroll Gardens Places Text Amendment, will lower the floor area ratio of new buildings on a number of side streets, effectively creating a height limit of 55 feet—down from 70 feet.

Current zoning regulations have classified First Place, Second Place, Third Place and Fourth Place, as well as Second Street between Henry and Smith streets, and Carroll Street and President Street between Smith and Hoyt streets as ‘wide streets.’ The amendment would designate these streets as ‘narrow,’ a change that will impact what homeowners or developers will be allowed to build.

By a vote of 20-7 with seven abstentions, the board gave its blessing to the text amendment, which must ultimately be approved by the City Council.

A fear of developers buying up small homes to build larger—and perfectly legal, but out of scale buildings—prompted the push for the amendment, which was crafted by the Department of City Planning, Levine said.

“It will affect the size of a house you can build—but it puts it on an even keel with the rest of Carroll Gardens,” noted Robert Levine, a board member who heads the Landmarks Committee.

The fear of developers buying up smaller scale homes to build larger—and perfectly legal, but out of scale buildings prompted the push for the amendment, which was crafted by the Department of City Planning, Levine said.

Board member Debra Scotto said she is not opposed to what local residents hope to achieve, but she blasted the way she said it has been accomplished.

“The procedure has been a disaster,” said Scotto. “We failed grossly in handling this.”

At issue, she said, is that many long time local residents were never properly notified of the proposed amendment, and have been effectively been kept out of the public discourse.

“Anyone who owns a building on these blocks will lose 27 percent of what they can build,” she noted. “I am for the height limit, but I would like to see it in a way that won’t hurt property owners.”

She said the matter should have a more extensive public review.

While she is a local developer, Scotto said she has no economic interest in the matter either way. “I have nothing to gain personally,” she said.

Member Jeff Strabone said previously held meetings on the matter were not qualitatively different than if the matter was subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a several months long public review.

Moreover, he said, the issue is cut and dry. “It is a slam dunk to plug a legal loophole left over from the 19th century,” he said. “This will just bring 15 blocks into conformity with the rest of Carroll Gardens.”

Property owners, Strabone said, stand to gain. “Look at Park Slope or Brooklyn Heights. Any measure that protects livable scale only raises property values.”

The board’s vote is only advisory in nature. The City Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the matter on June 4.


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