Monday, July 20, 2009

"CARROLL GARDENS UNITES!" Part Two: Boro Pres. Rezoning Hearing Re-Cap

Hello from CORD!

The mood at the July 14th Borough President's hearing, on the Carroll Gardens/Columbia Waterfront District rezoning was mild and congenial with no contention, very similar to the CB6 public hearing held a couple of weeks earlier.

Again, the community was in favor of the overall plan with the same reservations expressed at the CB6 meeting regarding those blocks which are headed for an R6A classification. You may read about the CB6 meeting here:


We have learned that, the Community Boards's Land Use Committee's suggested conditions, although a true and absolutely perfect example of a community board's representation of the expressed wishes of its residents, are conditions that are unable to be incorporated into this proposal.

John Hatheway, Land Use Committee Chairman of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association (CGNA), as well as CORD, each tried to contribute suggestions that might serve as possible solutions to this common concern. Whether or not any of these suggestions would indeed be viable solutions is still in question and something that both groups along with the Borough President's, City Councilman's and City Planning's offices are all working upon together.

CORD invites you to read the statements below and as always, reaches out to you for your input. We would be especially grateful for any zoning experts out there to weigh in on some of these ideas.

The majority present at the hearing all agreed that City Planning has overall done a very fine job with this rezoning, that their efforts and collaboration with the community, combined with the support of Councilman DeBlasio, his District Manager and our closest contact, Tom Gray, the invaluable assistance of Richard Bearak and the work done by John Hatheway, Glenn Kelly and all of the other dedicated volunteers has resulted in a very good contextual rezoning proposal.

But, there are still a few problems and the fact that the community is coming together in this unified manner, recognizing the problem areas and trying to work as a team to find a way to solve them is a wonderful reflection of the true feelings, soul and spirit of this neighborhood.

The following is the CORD statement delivered at Borough President Marty Markowitz' Public Hearing.
The first portion was delivered by Ros Morley and concluded by Glenn Kelly:

"I am reading these remarks on behalf of Rita Miller of CORD:

CORD applauds City Planning's efforts to preserve and protect our neighborhood and with few exceptions, we feel that this proposal propels us in that direction.

We like:

--The R6B contextual classification proposed for so many of our streets.

--the innovative way City Planning has approached the commercial overlay issue. This is key for our side streets.

--The carving out of the properties most at risk for out of character development on the two corners of Degraw Street.

--that the Columbia Waterfront was combined with Carroll Gardens..

--But, as discussed at the land use committee's meeting held last month, some tweaking is needed.

CORD has always expressed a desire to limit height in Carroll Gardens. And although we understand the great amount of work and community input that has gone into this proposal, it is still a bitter pill to swallow that we are going to lose the ground we fought for on First Place.

Also, although we understand that the likelihood of heights reaching the seventy foot maximum permitted under R6A designation along First Place, Clinton, Henry, President and even some areas on Court Street is small, it is still possible under this proposal.

The fact that some of the as built conditions along these blocks are a bit larger than what would ordinarily be classified as R6B, combined with the lack of a more brownstone district-friendly category, opens up the possibility of future, larger scale development. This is a matter of some concern.

It is unfortunate that we cannot safeguard the visual aesthetic that now exists as one travels the short distance from Carroll Gardens to our sister neighborhood, Cobble Hill-where everyone enjoys the absolute certainty of height restriction.

The Community Board's conditions of approval reflect the spirit and our clearly expressed desires but, we understand that they are impossible to grant since they would require an "out of scope" amendment to the proposal.

So, it is with the deepest respect and in the spirit of collective and creative problem solving, that CORD throws out another suggestion...

We request that as large a chunk of Carroll Gardens as possible be added to the four already existing communities designated as Special Planned Community Preservation Districts.

On June 10, 2009, in Article Ten Chapter 3 of the Zoning resoution, these districts parameters are listed as:

....Planned communities built prior to Dec 1961
....Encompassing an area of at least 1.5 acres
....Having a minimum of at least 3 buildings
....Exhibit a combination of open space and a street layout that allows for good vehicular traffic flow and represents an example of superior quality of life in an urban environment

Carroll Gardens fits neatly within these required parameters. Our size, history and age are appropriate. Our front gardens and gated front spaces provide a great deal of open space and our street layout was specifically designed to be pleasing and to allow for good vehicular (albeit horse and carriage) flow. The existing quality of life and human scale development in a thriving urban environment is precisely what we are trying to hold onto.

Further, the individual communities within these districts are afforded certain special
Conditions which allow them to maintain their unique architectural character--something surely needed in a nineteenth century brownstone area such as ours.

Designating us as a Special Planned Community Preservation District would allow new development to match more closely what is already built and not relegate us to the constraints of the contextual zoning regulations such as setbacks and a restrictive FAR as well as making the tear down of existing properties very difficult to downright impossible.

The portion or portions of the neighborhood which could not fit within the special district could continue under the certified contextual rezoning plan.

We are often reminded that zoning is not perfect and we must accept the tools and conditions that are available.

This is an available tool that can help further preserve and protect our community through the power of zoning--one that could be adjusted to our unique area's needs and character.

We implore you to consider this as an added on amendment to this zoning proposal.

Thank you. " CORD

We have also included John Hatheway's Borough President hearing statement.

"Re.: Carroll Gardens/Columbia Street Contextual Rezoning Plan

ULURP No. 090462 ZMK

Public Hearing of the Borough President’s office

"Borough President Markowitz,

I am writing in support of the proposed rezoning plan on behalf of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, as a co-chair of our Land Use and Zoning committee. We do, however, have some specific recommendations for modifying the plan within its certified scope.

I would first like to express our thanks to the Brooklyn office of City Planning led by Purnima Kapur. We would also like to thank Bill DeBlasio for his efforts to encourage the city government to address our long-standing concerns in a relatively short time period.

We feel that City Planning listened closely to our concerns about recent out-of-scale development and the potential for further degradation of the neighborhood’s character. Their proposed plan has addressed many of those concerns by going beyond their usual “playbook.” A particularly difficult condition exists along Court Street in the area of the “Place” blocks – 1st Place through 4th Place – where a number of blocks did not have the usual configuration of lots fronting onto Court Street. Rather, the lots front onto the adjacent side streets, right up to Court Street. The typical 100 to 150-foot deep higher density zoning with a commercial overlay that is normally imposed around wide, commercial streets would have allowed tall buildings and commercial uses to front onto the side streets (these garden blocks.) Instead, City Planning carefully jogged and narrowed the high-density and commercial overlay zoning boundaries to generally include only buildings that front onto Court Street. And at Smith Street, though typically commercial overlays have R6A zoning, City Planning has proposed to maintain its low-scale character by having an R6B zone there.

City Planning also reduced the commercial overlay and extent of the R6A zoning along Henry Street from their original proposal, this better protecting the character of the southern end of the street in the neighborhood. And their final plan provides for R6B zoning over potential development sites along Degraw Street at Clinton and Henry Streets.

We do, however, still hold some reservations about the current plan; in particular, the R6A zoning along Henry Street and the contiguous area of Clinton Street, a portion of President Street and one block of 1st Place, the R6A along a portion of Columbia Street, and the R6B zoning at Smith Street and Garnet Street (south of 9th Street.)

City Planning justifies the R6A along the Clinton Street corridor by trying to tailor the zoning to match the current buildings, avoiding the creation of non-conformances. We feel that by creating areas of R6A zoning, this plan creates the potential for undue development pressure. If R6A islands exist in a large area of R6B zoning it only makes sense that developers would focus on such islands as a place to get greater return on investment. We want to avoid this potential in our neighborhood. Therefore, we ask that you recommend to the city council that the proposed plan be amended to remove certain areas now designated to be R6A from the plan so that they remain R6 zoning districts, as indicated on the attached map.

We feel that maintaining the current R6 zoning is these areas better protects the community from out-of-context development than the so-called "contextual development" district, R6A. The benefit to leaving R6 is that, on narrow streets (1st Place, Clinton, President, Henry and Columbia Streets) is that the maximum FAR under Quality Housing is 2.2 and the max height is 55 ft, as compared to 3.0 FAR and 70 ft under R6A. Of course, there are no height limits under R6, so if someone has a big site then a tower might be possible and economical. But given that it would be very difficult to assemble a large site in most of the proposed R6A areas, it is much more likely that, with R6 zoning, people would build with Quality Housing rules, as they do now, not height-factor zoning.

Therefore we ask that you recommend that all proposed R6A areas be carved out to remain R6 except as follows:

The Columbia Street corridor is a low-scale commercial corridor like Smith Street and we feel that it should have an R6B zone instead of the proposed R6A. But since a change to R6B is not possible under this scope, and because the assembly of larger development sites exists here, we recommend maintaining the proposed R6A. Likewise we recommend that the entire block bounded by Hicks, Union, Henry and President Streets be maintained as the proposed R6A zoning.

Additionally, we continue to recommend that the Smith Street / Garnett Street south of 9th Street be up-zoned to R6A instead of R6B. The area is mostly zoned R6A in this proposal, should be completely R6A in order to spur new development and redevelopment of the many derelict properties there. Its adjacency to the elevated Gowanus Expressway, Hamilton Avenue and manufacturing along the canal warrants higher-density development.

We are very pleased that the city has listened to our neighborhood’s concerns and responded with this rezoning plan. We ask that you support this plan with the condition that the certain referenced areas be excluded from the rezoning plan, thus maintaining their R6 zoning classification.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on behalf of the CGNA." (J.H.)



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........