By Charles Hack & Helen Klein
Fearing that continued extensive development could negatively impact their pocket-size neighborhood, residents living in the vicinity of Caton Place turned out for a public hearing hosted by the City Planning Commission (CPC) to object to upzoning an area that would allow a proposed eight-story building for the small street. Addressing the panel of commissioners assembled in Spector Hall, the hearing room at the Department of City Planning’s 22 Reade Street office, speaker after speaker argued that the seven-block area bounded by Ocean Parkway, Coney Island Avenue, Caton Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway could not absorb the continued population growth from development in the area, as they urged the commission to oppose the application made by 22 Caton Place Corporation to upzone the lot. Already, they said, there are three other projects on the horizon, 59 units at 346 Coney Island Avenue, 107 units at 23 Caton Place and 60 units 362-364 Coney Island Avenue that together represent over 200 new apartments. Under the application, the upzoned parcel would be bounded by Caton Place, a line 100 feet southwesterly of East Eighth Street, a line between Caton Place and Kermit Place and a line between Ocean Parkway and East 7th Street. The application submitted by the 22 Caton Place Corporation would upzone the East Windsor Terrace lot, from an R6 to an R7A. The owner wants to build a 79,000-square-foot structure with 68 units, according to the developer’s attorney Marvin Mitzner, of Cozen O’Connor, at 909 Third Avenue in Manhattan. In 1993, the area was rezoned R5 Ocean Parkway Special Zoning District However, because of planned construction of a nursing home on Caton Avenue between East 7th and East 8th streets, City Planning excluded the blocks between Caton Place and Caton Ave from Ocean Parkway to East 8th Street from down-zoning. These blocks were left R6 while the rest of the area was rezoned R5. But the nursing home was never built, said Mandy Harris, a Kermit Place resident and a member of the Stable Brooklyn Community Group, and the down-zoning was not revisited as had been intended at the time. Since the amendment to the Ocean Parkway district, Harris stressed, “Density is concentrated along Ocean Parkway to a depth of about 100 feet, by a band of R7A zoning and most interior lots consisting of low-rise one and two-family homes were down-zoned to R5.” The exception, Harris emphasized, is the seven-block section of the East Windsor Terrace neighborhood now under assault from out-of-scale development. “Nowhere else in the Ocean Parkway district does the R7A zone extend so far into the interior lots as is being proposed by the applicant,” Harris pointed out. “When you look at the rest of the district, the R7A zone only extends 100 feet into interior lots. Here they want to extend it 300 feet on two sides.” The upzoning, she added, would mean, “an increase of 45 percent on one street.” Harris said her primary concern is density. George Bissel, a member of Community Board 7 and resident of 61 Kermit Pl., concurred. Pointing out that the area was a “small pocket of one and two-family houses and various post World War II apartment houses.” The developments now underway are replacing for the most part small businesses. “If all things remain the same, and if only two people live in each unit, which is an impossibility,” the developments together would add 604 people to the neighborhood’s population. “That’s a lot of people to cram into a small area,” he added. One of the reasons the name Stable Brooklyn was chosen for the group that formed to protect the area’s scale and quality-of-life is the existence of the only remaining horse stable serving Prospect Park, Kensington Stables of 51 Caton Place, at the neighborhood’s heart. “If anything defines us, it is that we live near Kensington Stables,” said resident June Reich. That stable, numerous speakers contended, would be “severely threatened by the proposed development,” as Nat Moss, an area resident, put it. Walter Blankinship, the stable’s owner pointed out that the purchasers of luxury condos in the area might feel, after they have moved in, that the stable’s proximity threatens their property values. Kensington Stables recently lost one of its two stables to condo development. Moss also said the development would “threaten to undermine the livability” of the area, because it would “shift the density in the wrong direction.” Reich said the area’s diversity would also be threatened, including its diversity of architecture. “No one style characterizes the neighborhood,” she told the commission, adding that she was speaking to “counter the ridiculous notion that just because one big building is going up on Caton Place, it means another should be going up across the street to keep it company.” Reich said that Stable Brooklyn was “working to develop our own plan” for the area’s future development. Mitzner countered that the zoning change from R6 to R7A would be “appropriate for the area and in context with the surrounding buildings.” He also said that the developer was “committed to 20 percent affordable housing,” and that he was “committed to (providing affordable housing in) at least 14 out of the 20 additional units. The building would not be condominiums or coops, said Mitzner. Rather, he said, the apartments would be rented out. Community Board 7, had heard testimony earlier as part of the ULURP process, voted on Nov. 8, to reject the zoning application on six grounds. Among the reasons members of Community Board 7 and the public rejected the proposal was that they feared the developer could sell the land based on the up-zoned value, lamented an absence of badly needed affordable housing, and balked at lack of provision for one parking-space to each unit. Mitzner had said that under current R6 zoning the parcel could have been developed as a five-story, 44 unit building as of right regulations, with 49,975 square-feet and an FAR of 2.2. The 5-story building would have had 22 fewer parking spaces than units. According to Harris, Barbara Hair, attorney for the applicant, presented drawings at the CB7 meeting of hypothetical buildings under R6 and R7A buildings. The R6 building would have 10-stories with 39 units and 70 percent parking. The R7A building would be an 8-stories with 68 units and a larger footprint from lot line to lot line with 50 percent parking. Mitzner said such a development would have allowed the builder to block windows of the adjacent building at 81 Ocean Pkwy. Warren Shaw, the president of 81 Ocean Parkway Owners, Inc., representing a six-story apartment house adjacent to the proposed development site, had told the developer they would support his application if he agreed to provide one indoor parking spot for every apartment in the new building, and leave a 16-foot side yard allow residents with windows on that side to continue to receive light and air. Under the new up-zoned the developer’s plans the 8-story building would have 90 percent parking spaces, Mitzner said. Shaw also said the developer had agreed to leave an eight-foot side yard. According to Shaw meeting the two conditions that the residents at 81 Ocean Parkway would result in a building “that would have the minimum possible adverse impacts upon us. A wide side yard and 100 percent indoor parking will result in a neighbor we can live with.” Shaw said that the shareholders at 81 Ocean Parkway supported efforts by Stable Brooklyn, “to develop a well-considered plan for our seven-block enclave including down-zoning.” Besides the developer’s attorney, one other individual spoke in favor of granting the developer’s application. David Loeser, a real estate agent, said that the construction of the proposed building at 22 Caton Place would enable people who had been priced out of the area to live there. “It must be the biggest building possible to allow the most affordable housing,” Loeser contended. “It’s a nice neighborhood but those people who wish to raise families there won’t be able to because they will be out-priced.” At a recent ULURP hearing held by Borough President Marty Markowitz at Borough Hall, just one speakers out of 23 testified in favor of the application.