Thursday, August 30, 2007

Town Hall Meeting Still Resonating One Week Later!!

This appeared in today's Queens Ledger:

Dateline : Thursday, August 30, 2007
Attacking Overdevelopment on Several Fronts

By Shane Miller

Downzoning? Landmarking? Moratorium on all new construction? Yes, yes, and yes, say residents of Carroll Gardens.
Such was the general consensus at a town hall meeting hosted by Councilman Bill de Blasio, which saw upwards of 100 people pack into Scotto Funeral Home on 1st Place last Thursday evening. De Blasio told the crowd that it was the first in a series of meetings he planned to host to address concerns of overdevelopment in the neighborhood, which is sandwiched between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Gowanus Canal.
"We need to get tightly organized as a neighborhood," de Blasio told the crowd.
Several large development proposals have galvanized the Carroll Gardens community, a neighborhood characterized by its attached rowhouses and brownstones and distinctive front-yard gardens, which in addition to giving the neighborhood its namesake as well as qualifying for a "wide streets" classification, which allows developers greater density.
One of the most notorious development plans on the table is located at 360 Smith Street. De Blasio and local residents have organized several rallies in protest of the project, which originally called for an eight-story building on what is now essentially a parking lot near the Carroll Gardens subway stop.
According to de Blasio, developer Billy Stein intended to submit revised plans sometime this week, in part because of the intense opposition to the project.
"We are going to make it difficult for them to do something crazy," de Blasio told the crowd.
The sale of the International Longshoreman's Association building site at 340 Court Street was also a source of concern. The large lot size means that the new owners, developers The Clarett Group, could build a 21-story building as of right.
"The developer doesn't have to go to the planning board or the city," said Assemblywoman Joan Millman, who along with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke attended the town hall. "He doesn't have to go to anyone."
Millman said that she met with representatives from The Clarett Group, who told her that it was premature to be discussing plans, as an architect hasn't even been hired to design the site.
Carroll Gardens residents received a minor victory recently, as the Department of City Planning (DCP) agreed to undertake a downzoning study. De Blasio said that the rezoning area would include everything west of Hoyt Street, but later said that he misspoke and meant to say west of Bond Street. In a nutshell, the downzoning would place a 50-foot cap on new buildings.
DCP, however, has refused to publicly state a time frame for the rezoning. Even if the study were started today, it would likely take months to complete, and the ensuing Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) and subsequent public review periods could take up to seven months to complete.
That gives developers plenty of time to get projects started, prompting many last week to call on a moratorium on all new construction in Carroll Gardens. Several members of the audience wore yellow tags and held signs that read "Moratorium Now!"
Rita Miller of Carroll Gardens Organization for Respectful Development gave the most impassioned case for a moratorium. She said the unchecked overdevelopment was not only ruining the character of the neighborhood, but taxing the infrastructure, including schools and mass transit.
"You wouldn't get a pet for your home without making certain preparations," said Miller. "We deserve the same respect as a parakeet."
Bob Furman of the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance (4BNA) told the crowd that such a moratorium would be illegal, a position de Blasio has taken in the past. Miller, however, said she had a letter from DCP head Amanda Burden, which expressed interest and support for a moratorium
A DCP spokesperson clarified the agency's position on Monday, stating that a moratorium is untested and would likely have to go through the ULURP process as well, which could delay any rezoning.
Furman also urged residents to support expanding the areas of Carroll Gardens that are landmarked. Currently, there are about four blocks of the approximately 80 in the neighborhood that are protected. Once a district is scheduled for a hearing before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), all development must stop, which would work much like a moratorium.
Furman said that he and three other members of 4BNA met with LPC chair Robert Tierney in July.
"He said, 'we'd love to do it, but we don't have the staff,'" recalled Furman.
Furman did say that a former employee of LPC could be hired to complete a landmarking study, the findings of which LPC would use to determine the historical significance of the district. The 4BNA has requested $40,000 from de Blasio to begin the process.
But while the city has agreed in theory to downzone much of Carroll Gardens, they have very different plans for the portion of the neighborhood along the Gowanus Canal.
On July 17, the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for roughly 5.8 acres of land at the intersection of 5th and Smith streets known as the Public Place site. The guidelines of the RFP called for the creation of at least 400 housing units, some of which will be set aside for senior housing.
"We need to make sure that new development is in synch with the surrounding neighborhood," said de Balsio, "but where we have the opportunity for more density, we should use that to create affordable housing. I'm going to push the spectrum."
Not every one is excited about the prospect of development along the canal, however. Marlene Donnelly of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG), for instance, would rather see the area along the canal restored to a natural wetland state.
Donnelly worries that more development, along with the proposed Atlantic Yards project, will only tax the canal further, and that the areas around the Gowanus Canal are being rezoned to facilitate a downzoning of the greater Carroll Gardens area.
"There are trees that could be planted that would suck up stormwater like crazy," she argues. "It is no place for housing."
Donnelly cites a study completed by the Army Corps of Engineers that recommended employing bio-remediation techniques to clean the area around the creek.
"Caps always fail," she adds. "On top of that, you are going to have 100 trucks a day hauling dirt to Pennsylvania where it can be incinerated, and then trucks hauling more dirt to back to replace it."
Donnelly agrees with de Blasio that Carroll Gardens needs to address a senior population that is being consistently displaced by rising rents, but doesn't believe that developing the area along the Gowanus Canal is the only option.
"Why are we putting them down by the water?" she asks, arguing that affordable senior housing could be negotiated with developers in other parts of Carroll Gardens. "That is what should be happening."

PHOTO CAPTION: Rita Miller of the Carroll Gardens Organization for Respectful Development urges Councilman Bill de Blasio to back a moratorium on new development in Carroll Gardens at a town hall meeting hosted by the councilman last Thursday evening. Link

Note: Please encourage your neighbors and friends to SIGN the Carroll Gardens petition if they have not done so already. Link


With the "Protect Our Homes" petition, CORD was formed in May, 2007. This petition arose as an overwhelmingly negative response to the coming of the over-sized 360 Smith Street Development at the corner of Smith Street and Second Place (Aka Oliver House; aka 131 Second Place). This petition, which had well over three thousand signatures, led to a new zoning text amendment in summer of 2008.

To: Our Elected Officials, Community Leaders, The MTA:
(MAY, 2007)

We the undersigned Carroll Gardens homeowners and residents, are appalled by the "as of right" ruling which allows owners and developers to erect buildings in our neighborhood with no regard to the impact they will present to our quality of life and the value of our homes........