By David Mark Greaves
There are those who look at the tree-lined streets and quiet elegance of brownstone Brooklyn, an almost-bucolic setting compared to the frenzied densities of Manhattan and figure they can cash in by erecting structures that destroy the essence of the initial attraction.
An example of this is the 14-story tower going up in the middle of Greene Avenue, between Bedford & Classon Avenues.
This construction site, the scene of demonstrations and much political contention, was visited by Community Board 3 District Manager Charlene Phillips and Board President Brenda Fryson on a “do diligence” mission to actually see the threat firsthand before they appear at an August 8th City Council meeting on the board’s rezoning proposal.
“What has happened in a number of communities, particularly the downtown area with the Atlantic Yards, is that developers are coming in and they are building as quickly as they can in order to have the foundations in before the rezoning rules come into effect,” said Ms. Fryson. These structures going up are either commercial or residential properties that are out of scale or out of context with the neighborhood, “so in some areas you’ll see these tall buildings sitting in the middle of a block of row houses and that is legal under the present zoning.”
What Community Board 3 started almost a year and a half ago, under the leadership of Bea Jones, was a whole rezoning package for the southern portion of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Referring to the democratic nature of the process, Ms. Phillips noted that, “Each of our five public gatherings about this rezoning was well attended by the community and they were very engaged in what was going on andthey really have played a part in this Bed-Stuy south rezoning.”
Following the proper steps, the board has the approval of the borough president’s office, saying, “Marty himself was very helpful” as they made their testimony to “preserve the character of the neighborhood, with its beautiful brownstones, apartment houses, small stores.”
The major issue in the proposal was height of the buildings. “It depends on what the area is,” says Ms. Fryson. “For instance, most of Fulton St. is in the proposal rezoned to R7D. That means that any developer who comes in can build up to seven stories but if they provide affordable housing they can go up to as many as ten, but no higher than that.” Giving “much props” to the Brooklyn office of City Planning, “they came down and walked every block with us,” she says, “The plan that came out the other end of this process-no more curb cuts on residential blocks and keeping small mom-and-pop stores-we think is a pretty good neighborhood preservation, economic development and affordable housing plan for Bedford-Stuyvesant. And those were our three objectives.”
Affordable housing means below market rate and the formula the city uses to determine what that is, is based on the Area Median Income, which HUD defines for Kings County as $71,300 in 2007.
Discounts are then made from that number, or one like it, to reflect the local economic reality and how local is a matter of concern because census tracts in the district vary from $11,822 in 255, to $38,438 in tract 285.01. An interesting feature about tract 285.01 is that it is right next to 285.02 with a median household income of $11,859 and there are several tracts in this area of north Brooklyn with these relationships (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census).
It is economic relationships such as these that prompts Ms. Fryson to say, “Now we have to go to the north as quickly as possible,” and develop a similar plan of neighborhood preservation, economic development and affordable housing.
Any drive down Flushing Avenue explains why speed is of the essence. Structures are going up blindingly fast. “That’s what could have happened in the south. So it is a very serious issue that we are going to try to work on and as fast as we can to get the south approved, then we’re going to go start on the north.”
Stay tuned. Zoning is about to become even more interesting. Next board meeting is 7:00pm on September 10th at Restoration Plaza, 1368 Fulton Street.