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CB 14 to City Planning: Put Flatbush Rezoning On Agenda – QNS.com

CB 14 to City Planning: Put Flatbush Rezoning On Agenda

By Helen Klein

Will the northern portion of Flatbush be next on the Department of City Planning’s list of neighborhoods ripe for rezoning? Members of Community Board 14 clearly hope so. They voted unanimously at their February meeting to recommend that DCP undertake a rezoning study of the area of the community board that is located between the Parade Grounds and the Long Island Railroad cut, which is characterized by graceful free-standing homes built at the turn of the 20th century. The vote, which occurred at Public School 249, Caton Avenue and Marlborough Road, after the issue was brought up by board Chairperson Alvin Berk, was the first official step in the effort to ward off uncharacteristic development that many fear would mar the scale and small-town ambiance of the area. The board kicked off the process just as the rezoning of Midwood, which they also initiated, is going through its final stages. That study was begun, as this would be, as a result of ongoing concerns communicated to the board about over-development in the area, said Berk. Just as complaints from residents had engendered the Midwood study, Berk noted, “We have had a similar eruption of requests from the northern half of the board. Once again, as with the Midwood situation, the primary thrust is to receive down-zoning or restrictions on up-zoning.” Of particular concern, said Berk, are, “Some high-density areas that are immediately adjacent to and in the spirit of the low-density areas. “The common thread,” he added in a subsequent interview, was a desire, “To preserve the character of Victorian Flatbush.” Inadequate Protection Some protections currently exist, but the fear of residents and activists is that they are insufficient. For instance, while Ditmas Park and Prospect Park South have landmark status, the other communities that make up Victorian Flatbush must now depend on the mixed bag of existing zoning to protect them. That is something like relying upon a safety net with numerous holes. While the zoning of Victorian Flatbush is relatively stringent in some areas, permitting only single or two-family homes, other communities have sections with underlying zoning of R-6 which would allow multi-family, multi-story buildings to be constructed where one and two family homes presently exist. Another problem is the swathe of areas which are zoned R3-2, a zoning district which, while more restrictive in terms of bulk than R-6, still allows multi-family housing to be constructed. While this was not an issue in the past, when families bought homes in the area with the intention of living in them, rising real estate prices throughout the city have changed the picture. Chiefly, the threat from development has escalated, as developers have found that they can make significant amounts of money by buying and demolishing older homes on larger pieces of property, and building multi-family condominium buildings in their stead. The March of Rezoning Many areas of Brooklyn have been changed as a result, among them Bay Ridge (whose rezoning is already complete), Sheepshead Bay, Homecrest and Midwood. In the past couple of years, all of these communities have been targeted by DCP for contextual rezoning. As the rezonings take effect, they effectively shut developers out of most parts of those communities which have been rezoned. The question then becomes, where will they go next? As rezoning efforts strive to stabilize communities already hard-hit by the assault, residents of Flatbush are expressing concern that their neighborhood not be the next one on the developers’ hit list. For this reason, and because of the inadequacies of the current zoning (which dates back to 1961), the presidents of the different neighborhood associations have been meeting to discuss zoning issues over the past several months. As a result of these meetings, they put together a zoning initiative package – including a cover letter which all signed – which was delivered to DCP last month. The request for rezoning for Flatbush included support letters from numerous local elected officials, including City Councilmembers Yvette Clarke and Kendall Stewart, Assemblymembers James Brennan and Rhoda Jacobs, State Senator Kevin Parker and Representative Major Owens. Varying Degrees of Vulnerability Richard Silverman, a resident of South Midwood, who has been studying area zoning over the past year, noted, “Victorian Flatbush is not well zoned at all. We’ve been lucky so far but Ditmas Park West, Beverley Square West, Beverley Square East and South Midwood are particularly vulnerable.” Changing the zoning to conform more with the built environment, Silverman said, would be a good first step. “Zoning wouldn’t protect the architectural character of the neighborhood, but it would protect the density,” he remarked. Areas with R3-2 zoning, he said, would be ripe for an onslaught by developers trying to buy up a series of lots. While, said Silverman, R3-2 zoning has both a side-yard requirement and a fairly low Floor Area Ratio (the measure of how large a building can be) — which means that “Tearing down a single house on a 50 x 100 lot doesn’t do much” — a developer who consolidated several lots could build a large, dense building that would accommodate a large number of families, he noted. “I think if we get a zoning change, it will take away the economic incentive to assemble a bunch of houses and know them down,” Silverman went on. “It’s imperative. Once the engine gets going, you’re crushed by it.” “My concern is for all of Victorian Flatbush,” remarked Monica MacAdams, the former president of the Ditmas Park Association. While, as she pointed out, Ditmas Park generally enjoys the protections afforded by landmarking, other portions of Victorian Flatbush are considerably, “More vulnerable.” In particular, MacAdams singled out, “The non-landmarked communities that have zoning that permits other than one and two-family homes. I doesn’t matter that it’s not in my backyard. It’s the whole community I’m concerned about. I think the whole area is historic and all the communities ought to be landmarked. The whole community deserves protection.” Problematic Zoning Julian Alssid, the president of the South Midwood Residents Association (SMRA) agreed. “We’re really pleased that the community board decided to move forward with this,” he said. “We’ve been advocating for down-zoning in the area for a long time. In particular, Alssid pointed out that the area has a great deal of R3-2 zoning, which he said was, “Definitely problematic. If someone gets a hold of property zoned R3-2, they can pack it with awful-looking garden apartment type things. They can have lots and lots of tenants, and pay zero respect to the neighborhood.” The lack of landmarking through a great deal of the area is an issue, Alssid said. “There are parts that have beautiful houses but that have more alterations, and they are on the edge. They are more vulnerable as a result,” he contended. “It might be a good time,” he suggested, “for the city to look at granting landmark status to all of Victorian Flatbush.” How pervasive is the desire to develop? “I look at the real estate ads every weekend,” MacAdams said, “and I see things that give the zoning, so you know they are looking for a developer who’s going to come in and knock the house down.” “The last real estate boom in the ‘80s didn’t have a lot of demolitions,” added Silverman. “This real estate boom is very hard-driven. We’ve been lucky so far but, if w don’t get down-zoning, I’m afraid it’s right around the corner.” “If you can take a piece of land that currently has a one or two-family house, and make it nine families, and you don’t care about aesthetics, just the bottom line, you do the math,” noted Alssid, who stressed, “I hope the city acts quickly before real estate developers sense an opportunity and swoop in.”

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