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Greener Brooklyn blocks...over time - City Council backs new Yards amendment

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While a flurry of development over the past several years has decreased the amount of green space in the city, new zoning regulations recently approved by the City Council are expected to put the brakes on that trend.

In an April 30th vote, the Council approved the Yards Text Amendment and the Street Trees Text Amendment that had been introduced by the Department of City Planning (DCP) last year.

Amanda Burden, the agency’s commissioner, applauded the vote in favor of the amendments which, she said, will, “Encourage the greening of our city. Over time,” Burden stressed, “these two green initiatives are likely to change the face of the city more than any single project.”

The Yards amendment, overall, mandates a minimum percentage of green space in the front yards of all new developments, and the Street Trees amendment requires street trees and curbside planting strips in front of new developments.

The Yards amendment addresses, among other issues, the paving over of front yards, by requiring that a certain minimum percentage of all front yards be landscaped, based on the length of the property’s street frontage.

It also prohibits front yard parking in developments in the lowest density, single-family zoning districts (R1 and R2), and establishes a minimum 20-foot-wide side yard requirement for houses on corner lots, as well as requiring all interior lots to have rear yards.

As for the Street Tree Planting amendment, it requires the planting of one tree for every 25 feet of frontage in front of new developments in all zoning districts, with certain exemptions. The requirement also kicks in for major enlargements, except of one and two family homes.

The amendment also requires the addition of planting strips curbside in front of new developments and major enlargements in residential zones from R1 through R5, again except for enlargements of one and two family homes.

The proposal is expected, according to DCP, to add some 10,000 street trees each year to the city’s thoroughfares.

The two amendments, noted Victoria Hofmo, the founder of the Bay Ridge Conservancy, reflect traditional values within the neighborhood that many residents have tried to hold onto, in the face of a tide of development that has seen greenery replaced by cement.

“Bay Ridge used to have a lot of green,” recalled Hofmo. “Anything that encourages it is welcome.”

However, Hofmo pointed out that the Yards amendment would not in itself necessarily prevent the creation of front parking pads on rowhouse blocks which, she said, are, “Where we have the most problems with curb cuts and yards being cemented in.”

Theresa Scavo, the chairperson of Community Board 15 -- which covers a large swath of southern Brooklyn, including Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay – also applauded the amendments’ passage.

“It’s about time,” Scavo proclaimed. “I understand people’s parking issues, but they’ve got to leave a little bit of green. That’s what makes the home.”

Throughout many neighborhoods in CB 15, said Scavo, the shift from gardens to concrete has been dramatic. “Every day, there’s another garden gone,” she lamented. “Now, we have McMansions, with the whole front of the house cobblestone pavers. There’s not a flowerpot.”

The big issue, however, is enforcement, Scavo stressed. “I’m glad the City Council passed it (the Yards amendment),” she remarked, “but I hope someone is going to enforce it with stiff penalties.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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