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Here we go again - Nabe rezoning in the works

Plans are in the works to contextually rezone the eastern and northern portions of Community Board 1, a measure that would preclude the construction of taller buildings that have irked many community residents who see them as out of scale with their neighborhood.

Under contextual zoning, developers must make their buildings fit in with the rest of the surrounding block or neighborhood.

When this portion of CB 1 is rezoned, it will join the western portion of the district, which was rezoned as part of the waterfront rezoning of 2005. The 2005 rezoning enabled construction of waterfront high-rises, but “downzoned” most of the area’s western blocks to preserve the area’s low-scale feel.

In all, approximately 175 blocks stand to be rezoned. In Williamsburg, the rezoning will roughly cover the residential area east of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, stretching until the neighborhood’s eastern manufacturing section, with Maujer and Scholes streets as its southern boundaries at different points. In Greenpoint, it roughly covers an area from Franklin Avenue to McGuiness Boulevard on the west and east, with Clay Street at its northern boundary.

Currently, most of these blocks have an R6 zoning designation, which allows for medium density development with flexible height limits that in some cases enable buildings to rise more than 20-stories tall. The new rezoning is expected to impose R6-A, R6-B, and R7 zoning designations, which would cap building heights in the five- to seven-story range.

By the end of 2008, officials from the Department of City Planning (DCP) expect the rezoning to enter the Uniform Land Review Procedure (ULURP) public review process. During the ULURP process, the rezoning will need to be approved by Community Board 1, Borough President Marty Markowitz, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council before it goes into effect. Advocates think this may happen by the spring of 2009.

Those who wanted to preserve the low-density character of the neighborhood generally praised the rezoning.

Ward Dennis, chair of the CB 1 ULURP Committee, said DCP “came pretty close” to what advocates had asked for originally.

Stephen Levin, a spokesman for Assemblymember Vito Lopez, said: “We’re supportive of the plan, but we would like to see it include more areas.”

Lopez has advocated for the southern edge of the rezoning to be moved down to Boerum Street. Although there are multiple public housing developments in the area, he would like to see the non-public, residential blocks in that area rezoned. In addition, he has advocated for the area bordered by Borinquen Place, Broadway, Union Avenue to be included as well. Currently, both areas are excluded from the rezoning.

“Right now, there are a lot of smaller residential buildings in that area. The opportunity will be there for someone to buy up a lot of these lots and really build something quite high and dense,” said Levin.

Community activist Phil DePaolo said the rezoning was “much-needed,” but felt DCP should have included the current rezoning in the 2005 rezoning.

“The area that they’re protecting now should have been included initially. It’s the same kind of low-scale residential that you saw on the Northside,” he said, referring to the area that was rezoned in 2005.

“You’ve given developers a three-year window, and now you’re seeing all these ‘Finger Buildings’ popping up,” he continued, evoking the high-rise on N. 7th between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street that has become a catch-all term for tall buildings.

DePaolo is fearful that developers will rush to pour their foundations before this rezoning goes into effect next year, which would be similar to what happened shortly before the 2005 rezoning went into effect.

However, he allowed that the economic climate is very different now than it was in 2005.

One other large portion of CB 1 not included in either rezoning is the entire area south and west of Broadway. That area is also not included in the 421-A tax abatement exclusion zone, which went into effect for most other parts of CB 1 this past July.

“That’s the new promised land for developers,” DePaolo said.

“Everything’s ‘as of right.’ By next summer, you’ll start seeing all the new building permits shift over there.”

***

On October 28 and 29, the Department of City Planning, Community Board 1, and Councilmembers Diana Reyna and David Yassky will host information sessions discussing the new rezoning.

At the meeting, City Planning staff will present the proposal and answer questions from the public.

The information sessions will take place on:

Tuesday, October 28, 6:30 p.m. at Swinging 60s Senior Center, 211 Ainslee Street; and

Wednesday, October 29, 6:30 p.m., at the Greenpoint Savings Bank Building, 807 Manhattan Avenue.

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