Black eye for E. 24th St. permit - CB14 balks at Midwood home expansion bid

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Concern over inadequate notification to nearby residents of a proposed Midwood home expansion has caused Community Board 14 to vote at its October meeting to oppose the a special permit for 1155 East 24th Street.

A total of 33 members voted to recommend that the city’s Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA) not grant the special permit during the meeting held at Edward R. Murrow High School, 1600 Avenue L. Five board members abstained. There were no board members voting in favor of the special permit. The board’s vote is advisory only.

The board regularly considers applications for home enlargements under the special permit process, which was put in place in 1998 in portions of CB 14 and four other community boards (CB 10, CB 11, CB 12 and CB 15), all in Brooklyn.

The purpose of the process, which was offered to every community board in the city, is to allow residents to expand the homes they own, rather than having to move from the community to accommodate growing families.

However, in the years since the special permit process was put in place, home expansions have often exceeded what had been anticipated. Homes have been purchased, only to be demolished and replaced with new, considerably larger structures. In addition, other homes have undergone such extensive refurbishing that they are, to all intents and purposes, new, considerably more massive residences.

Alvin Berk, CB 14’s chair, remarked before the vote that, during the public hearing held several days earlier, “The sentiment was that there was excessive bulk and inadequate notice to members of the community.”

In a subsequent interview, Berk underlined that the lack of notification had been a major deal-breaker, as far as board members were concerned. “There was an issue when neighbors asserted that they hadn’t received notice of the hearing,” Berk recalled. “When the architect, Lewis Garfinkel, was asked about that, he acknowledged that the address had inadvertently been excluded from the service list by the company used to provide notice.

“It was evident to me then that there was a growing sentiment among board members present to deny the application, so I offered Mr. Garfinkel the option of voluntarily putting a hold on the application before BSA and the board would consider hearing it again, to make sure that service to the neighbors was comprehens­ive,” Berk went on. “He rejected the offer. I believe the board members considered the rejection of the offer in the deliberations that followed.”

There is also a growing sentiment among board members that perhaps the special permit process needs to be reexamined, said Berk. He stressed, “They seem less predisposed to approve than in the past. I think there is overall a growing sense by board members that they need to scrutinize these things individually and vote on the merits, and when there are objections to either substance or with respect to the reaction of neighbors, they do feel obligated as a board to acknowledge those problems and factor them into their decision.”

Florence Valentino, a board member who has often voted against the home enlargements, concurred. “The board is taking a little bit of a closer look now at over-development, now that it is starting to affect the people who are actually on the board,” she opined. “The over-population in the neighborhood, in general, is getting on people’s nerves. Mayor Bloomberg says build, build, build, but neighborhood services can only support a certain amount of development.”

In addition, said Valentino, “The board itself has changed over recent years. That has a lot to do with it also. People with new perspectives have come on the board.”

To her mind, this is a good development. “I love Brooklyn,” Valentino stressed, “but I love it the way it is.”

Garfinkel, for his part, said that all the neighbors had been notified, except one, and attributed the lack of notification to “maybe a typo.”

As for the excessive bulk, he said that, “There have been plenty of houses like that, that they have approved. The BSA looks at the each case on the merits of every other house it has approved. If they tell me to get the community board’s approval, I will go back.”

Essentially, the special permit process permits the enlargement of one and two family detached and semi-detached homes within strictly defined limitations: Homeowners may expand up to 10 feet into their backyard, as long as the backyard is at least 30 feet deep.

In addition, the special permit allows them to expand their home into the side yard, to the extent of existing projections on the structure. Thirdly, it allows them to build upward, as long as the height does not exceed the height of neighboring homes. The expansions may not reduce the distance between neighboring homes, nor may they encroach upon the homes' front yards.

Beyond objective criteria, there is a subjective yardstick that can be brought to bear on each application as well. That is, a determination must be made that the proposed expansion, “Would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood, nor impair the future use or development of the surrounding area.”

BSA will hear the special permit application on November 18th.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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