Boro Park Residents Speak Out Against Upzoning in Borough Hall Hearing

(Pictures courtesy of Gifter Photos)

By Matis Glenn

A crowd of Boro Park residents attended a hearing Monday in Brooklyn’s Borough Hall to voice their concerns over a planned upzoning of a lot to accommodate a large structure.

A Staten Island developer hopes to transform the lot, located on 57th Street between 12th and 13th Avenues, into a large building for residential rental units and medical offices, with an underground parking garage.

Residents say that the new building will further exacerbate traffic, cut parking spaces, cause safety concerns, and drive up housing costs.

Any proposed upzoning requires the approval of the City Council, after going through three public hearings – first through the local Community Board, then the Borough President, and finally the city Planning Board. However, only the City Council has the power to make a decision regarding approval of the proposal.

Monday’s event was attended by Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. In late April, the proposal was heard at Community Board 12, where all but one of the 38-member panel voted against it. One attendant at the meeting told Hamodia that the room was packed with residents who were vehemently opposed to the plans.

The area is currently under an R5 zone, which allows the building of three-story buildings. Previously, the area was populated with five single-family houses. Under the proposed plans, the zone would be upgraded by two levels, to R6A, which allows construction of buildings up to nine floors. The developer had originally proposed an eight-floor structure, but lowered it to five floors amid backlash from community members.

A quarter of the housing units are required to be used for affordable housing, which the project’s architect told photojournalist Shimon Gifter means around half of market value. He says that means $45 per square foot, translating to around $80,000 a year for a 2,000 square foot, five-bedroom apartment. The architect also said that the housing in the building will be mainly three, four, and five-bedroom units.

David, a resident of the neighborhood since 1975, said at the hearing “I don’t know where he (the speaker) gets his information.. I don’t believe he’s been in the neighborhood from 8 to 11 a.m., and from 3 to 7 p.m., where he can blatantly say that there are reports which say that the neighborhood can handle the traffic. I don’t know which neighborhood he got that report from…Sometimes it can take you 20 minutes to go five blocks by car.”

Another resident, a driving instructor, said that he spends eight hours on the road in Boro Park everyday, and invited the Borough President to come to the neighborhood and see for themselves how “it’s impossible to add more cars and traffic to the area.”

Speaking about the plan’s affect on parking, David said, “Everyone knows there are no parking spaces in the area. You can see that from taking a study on how many tickets the city gets every day and every night in our neighborhood.”

The developer plans on building 46 units, with 52 parking spaces.

“He said he’s going to put 52 parking spots; are these people going to be restricted to use only those spots, or are they going to take our spots? That’s never going to happen, they’re going to park on the street, running in and out, and there are no spots there,” David continued.

A property owner who owns many houses in the area raised the concern of street safety at the hearing. “If there are two more entrances on a small block where cars will come and go, children will be in danger. When we have 800 busses picking up and dropping off…we don’t need another 52 cars, G-d forbid one life of a small child can be taken.” 

A source familiar with Hatzalah’s operations told Hamodia that 57th Street is strategically used by ambulances as a thru-route, as it is near an ambulance garage on 57th and 11th Avenue. A Maimonides clinic, which often transports patients to the hospital, is around the corner. Under the proposed plan, cars would be pulling in the underground garage and leaving onto the street often, which could interfere with Hatzalah’s system.

Richard Lobel, an attorney for the developer, addressed the issue of traffic in an interview with Gifter. Lobel explained that all upzoning proposals require the submission of an environmental assessment statement that analyzes factors in the area, including car counts, street width, public transportation, and other contributing factors, which are meant to determine the impact construction will have on the neighborhood. Lobel says that his submission indicates that there will not be a detrimental effect on parking in the area.

Lobel says that his team is open to compromise, which could mean a shorter building with either smaller or fewer units. 

The project’s architect said that the building is being designed to cater to Orthodox Jews, including provisions for every unit to accommodate a sukkah.

Opponents of the plan say that there’s no guarantee that the developer will follow through on such promises, or keep his word on how tall the building will be, once his zoning bid is approved.

The architect also responded to residents’ concerns that the building will make parking more difficult, while acknowledging that traffic in the area is “a mess.” He says that the building will limit itself to two entrances for its underground garage, traversing the structure, which he says will leave enough room on the street to park.

The plan is being reviewed by Reynoso, and public comments can be emailed to until May 19.

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