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Bensonhurst Residents Push For Zoning Changes

“We’re almost there.” That’s the message the Bensonhurst Quality of Life Committee sent to neighborhood residents on the eve of last week’s City Planning Commission’s hearing on proposed zoning changes. At issue is a plan to rein in condo developers now snapping up traditional one and two family homes and constructing multi-storied buildings in their place. The proposed zoning changes affect a block of Bensonhurst bounded by Bay Parkway and 61st Street on the north, McDonald Avenue on the east, Avenue U on the south and Stillwell Avenue on the west. The effort enjoys the support of local elected officials like Councilmember Domenic Recchia, Assemblymember Bill Colton and Borough President Marty Markowitz. Community Board 11 has backed the plan as well. Developers, realtors and some homeowners opposed to zoning changes that they fear might inhibit their ability to get top dollar for their properties, oppose the plan. “I never thought I’d see this happen so fast,” Lorraine Lapatina, president of the Bensonhurst Quality of Life Committee told those gathered inside the basement of St. Simon & Jude Church. The plan is working its way through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Community Board 11 voted unanimously to back the proposal on March 10 after holding public hearings. The borough president held a hearing on April 4. The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the rezoning proposal by the end of the month. The full City Council will then have 50 days to consider the plan upon receipt of the City Planning Commission’s official report. Sensing that the momentum is now with them, downzoning proponents are already talking about expanding rezoning efforts beyond the 120 blocks included in the present proposal. “Just because your area has been rezoned doesn’t mean you should forget the areas around you because it’s all one neighborhood,” said Colton. “Monstrosities are being built on 23rd Avenue and 80th Street, Benson Avenue, Bay Parkway, that’s going to affect our neighborhood. So, we still have to get zoning done for the other areas.” Developer Domenico J. Perisi, president and CEO of Oceanic Energy Corporation supports building regulations, but criticizes the proposal now being considered. “A lot of the homes built on these lots in the areas we’re talking about are economically underdeveloped,” he said. “And when you put a noose around people’s necks and don’t allow them to expand their homes are maximize that lot potential, they’re going to look elsewhere.” Community Board 11 District Manager Howard Feuer expressed his hope that the proposed zoning changes would be approved before Father’s Day. He also issued a warning and a promise about “self-certified” developments. “They’re not going to the Buildings Department,” he said. “They’re not getting Building Department permits. They’re not being inspected by Buildings Department inspectors. But I promise everyone in this room, we’re going to make sure that if there are any shenanigans, we’re going to make sure that the Building’s Department looks at those plans.” According to Feuer, the Community Board has roughly 25 demolition permits now before it that were almost certainly going to be self certified by an architect. Colton, too, stressed the importance of enforcement, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the rezoning proposal “If the Buildings Department doesn’t start enforcing it, it won’t mean anything,” said Colton. Other residents charged that some builders frequently exceeded the work specified in their building permits.

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