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CB7 Refuses to ‘Unstick’ Area Developers

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After hearing from a community intent on preserving the low-rise character of its neighborhood, the Community Board 7 Land Use Committee recently voted to reject an application by developers to complete five projects they had started before new stricter zoning law came into effect. The full board unanimously supported the vote the following day. “The communities of South Park Slope and Green-Wood Heights sent a clear message to developers that they are not going to accept non-contextual development,” said Randy Peers, chair of Community Board 7 in a statement. “In the case of these five sites, the community board does not buy the argument that they merely got ‘stuck in the middle’ “ Community Board 7 held its second hearing to consider applications from property developers, whose construction projects were halted on Nov. 16, 2005 by a new downzoned area that includes most of a rezoned 50-block parcel at South Park Slope and Green-Wood Heights. Owners had filed applications to the City of New York Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) requesting that they be allowed to complete the property developments they had begun before the new zoning laws kicked in. After the CB 7 hearing and subcommittee meeting scheduled for Jan. 17 at 4201 4th Ave., the decision will be taken to the full board, which will file recommendations with the BSA. Attorney Eric Palatnik represented the owners of 245 16th St. and 422 Prospect Ave. at the CB 7 BSA “application for an extension of period to compete construction” hearings. Palatnik’s testimony argued that the foundations had been substantially completed by the day that the new rezoning was approved by the City Council. To be automatically “grandfathered in,” the foundations would normally have to be 100 percent complete. The proposed six-family building on 16th Street would be a 49-foot, four-story building, according to the permit filed with the Department of Buildings. The gross area would be 8,391 square feet, according to the permit. Although the height does not exceed the limit under the new R6B zoning regulations, the floor area would have to be reduced because a 10-foot setback would be required, he said. There was some conflict between what was presented in verbal testimony from Palatnik and what is documented. For example, in verbal testimony he frequently said the percentage of the foundation completed was about 75 to 80 percent. In the application filed with the BSA, he states that the foundations are 90 percent complete. In addition, Palatnik said that floor area would be 6,000 square feet under existing plans and 5,000 square feet under the new R6B zoning. This compares to more than 8,000 square feet shown on the permit issued on Oct 7. Aaron Brashear, of the Concerned Citizens of Green-Wood Heights, testified that while the property itself was significantly less out-of-character than other recent developments in the neighborhood, he challenged the legality by which the developer claimed the foundation was substantially complete by the time the November 16th deadline had arrived. Brashear alleged that the owner had attempted to beat the clock, allowing work to continue outside the hours allowed by the permit. He also argued that the foundations had been rushed, and questioned the stability of the foundations for future occupants and their neighbors. Similar arguments were presented for the second property, on Prospect Avenue, formerly in an R5 zone that was changed to R5B. The proposed 30-foot dwelling was, according to permits, a three-family, three-story building with an area of 4,422 square feet. Howard Blunt, of 184 16th St., asked the board to oppose further high-rise development. “The quality of life on the street is just horrendous,” Blunt said. “I am not talking about this property so much, but I am talking about the trend. We are seeing enormous changes going on.” A representative from Assemblymember James F. Brennan’s office said that the application should be denied because down-zoning that the community had fought hard to achieve should be preserved by strict enforcement. Peers blasted developers for not taking a greater interest in the communities in which they wanted to develop. He said that if the developers had consulted the public before they began planning their developments, the problems that community now faces would not have been so acute. On Jan. 11, a well-attended and spirited meeting was held at CB 7, at St. John-St. Matthew-Emmanuel Church, BSA to consider applications to extend the work time on three other properties. The three were a five-story building at 400 15th St., a six-story building at 639 6th Ave. and two- to three-story building at 1638 8th Ave. Like the properties at the second hearing, the applicants who were represented by law firm Greenberg Traurig, argued that their foundations had been substantially completed. But the property owners also filed separate applications for financial hardship, because of development costs already incurred, and because they claimed expenses associated with repairing damage to adjacent properties, and responding to stop work orders. According to sources, speaker after speaker strongly objected to these arguments. “It has been proven that the construction delays were a result of violations and stop work orders,” Peers said. “In our opinion, we shouldn’t be rewarding developers with vesting rights when based on their track record they have consistently done the wrong thing.” Public hearings for 182 15th St. and 614 7th Ave. will take place Wed., Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Grand Prospect Hall, 263 Prospect Avenue between 5th and 6th avenues.

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