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Yassky, Miller push DUMBO rezoning

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A rezoning proposal for DUMBO that has been under consideration for more than a year by the Department of City Planning received a boost from Councilman David Yassky and Council Speaker Gifford Miller this week.

In a letter sent March 16, Yassky, who represents DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn, urged City Planning officials to put forward a rezoning plan for the formerly industrial neighborhood, which has over the past few years shifted from an artists enclave to a booming neighborhood of high-end rentals and condominium sales.

City Planning received a petition for comprehensive rezoning in October 2003, at the behest of local residents, as The Brooklyn Papers reported at the time, but that effort made little headway and appears to have languished in the borough office of City Planning, according to Yassky.

The letters from Yassky and Miller, however, may give a swift kick in the pants to the agency to get a move on before new high-rise development overtakes the neighborhood of primarily eight- to 10-story buildings.

“Unfortunat­ely, the city’s zoning of the area has yet to catch up with the progress of the community,” Yassky wrote in his letter to City Planning.

Nancy Webster, president of the DUMBO Neighborhood Association, said Miller issued a similar letter to the agency.

“We’re very happy that David and the speaker have contacted City Planning on our behalf,” said Webster.

The importance of the redesign, she said, is to avoid the proliferation of “spot zoning” or variances approved by the city on a case-by-case basis, some as tall as 30 stories.

In December, the City Planning Commission approved plans by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to build four 14- to 20-story dormitories and living facilities on a massive, empty lot bounded by Bridge, York, Front and Jay streets that sits in both DUMBO and Vinegar Hill. And according to filings by the city’s Department of Buildings, a building at 100 Jay St. at York Street will rise to 337 feet once completed. [Read the Paper’s past coverage of DUMBO development.]

And the under-construction Beacon Tower, at 85 Adams St. at York Street, will be 23 stories tall. All of the new buildings will dwarf the neighborhood, whose tallest buildings stand 10 to 12 stories tall.

“We’ve had some spot zonings, obviously,” said Webster, “and we anticipate that there will be more in the coming years. The neighborhood association would very much like to have a comprehensive rezoning so that the residents can have a seat at the table.”

A Yassky spokesman said the councilman was glad to lend his support.

“The community’s been discussing it for some time, and in the past year we’ve had several projects that have tested the boundaries of the current zoning,” said Yassky spokesman Evan Thies. “It’s best that we don’t do this piecemeal approach to neighborhood development.”

City Planning officials seemed to respond, said Thies.

“They said they’re going to consider it seriously, and we’re sure that they will, and we’re sure that in the very near future we can begin discussion about the plan and what City Planning thinks is the best way of re-mapping that area,” said Thies. “I don’t think that’s something that’s being considered yet.”

The next challenge, said Webster, will be incorporating the community’s desire to preserve housing and history while welcoming new development.

“We’d like to see a contextual rezoning that maintains the current scale of the buildings and the densities that we have — the feel and the sense of place you get,” said Webster.

“We realize that when a neighborhood gets rezoned from manufacturing to residential that people can be vulnerable in that,” she said. “What we’d like to do is have some sort of affordable housing requirement in any rezoning, but particularly one that gives preference to working artists.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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