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11th Hour Change to B’hurst Rezoning Proposal?

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In less than 10 days the City Planning Commission is expected to deliver its recommendation to the City Council on whether or not to endorse a proposal to rezone a 120-block area in Bensonhurst. But one local elected official says that he will use that time to find out if a small part of that proposal should be changed. “All along of I’ve been in favor of down-zoning,” Councilman Simcha Felder told the Bay News this week. “Whenever anyone has asked me I said as long as everything makes sense it’s fine with me. If something doesn’t make sense to me it’s not fine with me.” Already backed by Community Board 11 and other elected officials like Councilman Domenic Recchia, the proposal to rezone an area of Bensonhurst bounded by Bay Parkway and 61st Street in the north, McDonald Avenue in the east, Avenue U in the south and Stillwell Avenue in the west, is an effort to preserve the traditional low-rise, low-density housing stock now in danger of being replaced with hi-rise condo developments. Last week, Felder said that he decided to inspect one of those blocks after receiving a complaint at his office. “An owner who has a number of properties on the block – they [critics] like to call them developers because developers has an evil connotation – contacted me and said they thought that the zoning on West 4th between 65th Street and Avenue O was unfair,” said Felder. “The block is an ugly block,” he said. “It’s a very small block, it has two large apartment buildings on each corner and when you’re standing on the block you can hear the honking from 65th Street as well as the traffic from Avenue O. Anybody who goes down the block is not going to say this is a beautiful tree-lined one-family house block.” Under the rezoning proposal the block would receive an R4a designation, significantly less than the R6 designation, which now allows for much taller buildings to be built. “I saw in addition that the guy that had bought the properties had already either destroyed them or was about to destroy them,” said Felder. “Now, under the law, whether you like the law or not, until any zoning change is made, you’re allowed to go ahead and get the cement in, and then you’re allowed to build whatever is allowed under the current zoning.” The result if the block were successfully rezoned would be “bulk towers” and “little buildings,” according to Felder. “Whether we like it or not if the guy did what he did under the law – even if the law stinks – and he’s going to do most of the block under the old law of R6, maybe it’s not such a terrible thing that that block be rezoned to the 65th Street side which is R7 and R6.” Many residents, hopping mad over what they see as rampant over-development, are adamantly opposed to hi-rise condos on their block. One such resident - George Gifford - reportedly confronted Felder about the situation in an expletive-laden exchange during the councilman’s tour of West 4th Street last week. Felder confronted Gifford about the episode at the May meeting of Community Board 11. “It seems that some of the people in the audience are just screaming blood,” Felder said in an interview. “They don’t even care. It’s almost like because during the process people didn’t get exactly want they want, no one else should get what they want. The issue is not what they want, the issue is what’s best for the community.” Lorraine Lapetina, president of the Bensonhurst Quality of Life Committee - the group at the forefront of the down-zoning campaign - said that she was so upset with Felder’s position that she walked out of the meeting. “That’s a really cute block,” she said. “I don’t know how he says he can’t agree with an R4. It’s really a nice block and the houses that are coming down are 1-family houses. It’s really a shame.” Lapetina said that she, too, visited West 4th Street and spoke to neighbors. The only ugly thing the civic activist saw was the condo development on the block, she said. “There’s a monstrosity there,” she said. “How could that ever have been allowed to be put up. Now I’m looking at the houses they’re breaking down and I’m getting a knot in my stomach. They can’t park as it is. I don’t know where these people think they’re going to go.” Lapetina also criticized Felder’s involvement in the whole rezoning process up until this point. “I just hope they [Planning Commission] don’t listen to him,” she said. “I think I saw him twice before in my life.” Assemblyman Bill Colton— another outspoken supporter of the rezoning proposal— said that changes made now to the proposal would make subsequent efforts to rezone additional parts of Bensonhurst more difficult. “It would encourage developers to try and put in claims that they had bought property on a block and therefore they should be allowed,” he said. “More importantly it would have a tremendous strain on the surrounding blocks.” The assemblyman added that the proposal was already a compromise plan. “I think everyone will agree that we have to get it done quickly,” said Felder. “The longer this is delayed the worse it is for the neighborhood because it means that everyone that has an opportunity to do anything is going to do whatever they can being unsure of what will happen. However, that doesn’t mean we want to delay things.” Felder said that he will abide by the findings of Gail Benjamin, director of the City Council’s Land Use Division. “If she says that change is necessary, I intend to get that change done before the 10 days are up,” he said. “I’m not asking for this thing to be delayed. I don’t want to delay it at all. If the commission would say to me that the only way to change things was to delay, then I would give up, but that’s not the case.” Lapetina blasted developers as “arrogant.” “Now they want mercy and I don’t think the commission should give it to them,” she said. Colton is hopeful that the proposal will ultimately win approval the way it is. “I would like to see them reject the change on Avenue O to 65th because I think that any kind of further change at this point is not in the interest of the initial mandate of the plan which is to maintain the quality of life and the character on those residential blocks,” he said. Lapetina, however, is not as confident. “I don’t know what to think at this point,” she said. “The commissioners are in favor of the developers. The mayor appoints the commissioners. But they heard from the community. They heard that we don’t want it. Let’s see if they listen to the community.” Let the booting begin! In an event as predictable but nowhere near as fun as a Memorial Day barbeque, cops from the 61st Precinct are poised to begin their summertime booting program in Manhattan Beach. On weekends from now through the middle of September, cars found blocking residential driveways, parked too close to fire hydrants or sitting in designated “No Parking” zones will be ticketed and then booted. The metal device, which is attacked to the car’s front left tire, leaves illegally parked motorists in a lurch since they not only have to pay the hefty ticket for their infraction, but also a $200 fee to have someone come by and remove the boot. The boot restricts the vehicle from moving, so motorists, if they want their car back, have no choice but to pay. This annual program was first instituted back in 1994, when illegal parking was so rampant in Manhattan Beach during the summer months that residents – since their own driveways were blocked – were forced to parked illegally as well. Waves of complaints from Manhattan Beach residents and the Manhattan Beach Community Group caused police to adopt the booting policy, which, at the time, showed great success in other parts of the city. For the most part, beach goers wanting to keep their money in their pocket have made it a point to avoid these no parking zones, as well as some of the residential side streets, officials said. Each and every year, Manhattan Beach is considered a borough “hot spot” where sun worshippers and body surfers travel to so they can get away from the claustrophobic crowds of Coney Island. Manhattan Beach is also much cleaner, beach-goers claim. Besides bringing rain clouds in the form of tire boots, cops from the 61st Precinct are going to up patrols in the area to protect the throngs of Brooklynites expected to hit the waves this summer. —Tom Tracy

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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