The rezoning of Flatbush appears to be coasting to fruition.
At a public hearing held by Borough President Marty Markowitz, in the courtroom at Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street, residents of the area unanimously spoke with approbation of the effort by the Department of City Planning (DCP) to retool zoning to protect the scale and density of the Victorian Flatbush neighborhoods now threatened by over−development, while allowing some growth on commercial streets where DCP believes development is appropriate, as well as providing developers with the incentives to build affordable housing, which is badly needed.
CB 14, which approved the plan last month as the first stage of ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), “Believes the zoning proposal is carefully crafted, balanced and exquisitely sensitive to the needs of the community,” said Alvin Berk, the board’s chair.
“Maintaining the neighborhood the way it is, is vital,” contended South Midwood resident Warren Dingott, adding that Victorian Flatbush is “one of the few communities that have the same sense when you walk through it, as 31 years ago.”
“Aesthetics and context matter,” argued Joel Siegel, the president of the Ditmas Park West Association, noting that young families are moving into Flatbush. “I submit to you it’s because it’s a beautiful place,” Siegel said.
“One hundred years ago, the leaders of Flatbush wrote a book, Flatbush: Realm of Light and Air. That’s still the Flatbush we love, and the proposal will ensure we will have the at Flatbush for another 100 years,” added Chris Kreussling, who blogs as the Flatbush Gardener.
Richard Silverman, the president of the South Midwood Residents Association, concurred. He reminded his listeners that, as the housing bubble got larger, three Victorian homes (two on Stratford Road, one on Bedford Avenue) had fallen victim to over−development. “If the bubble had not burst,” Silverman added, “it is likely that these entire blocks would have been leveled.”
The plan now under review was introduced to the community last spring. It has been revised to include additional protection for the large, freestanding homes in two Victorian neighborhoods, South Midwood and Ditmas Park West, in answer to concerns raised at a public meeting held last June.
Specifically, DCP is remapping most of South Midwood and much of Ditmas Park West, so the bulk of the neighborhoods would be zoned R3X, a category that is used by the agency for areas of large, detached homes.
Currently, many parts of the two areas are zoned R3−2, which allows construction of attached homes and small apartment buildings. In addition, some portions of the neighborhoods are zoned R6, which allows large apartment buildings and has no fixed height limit.
“My home is one of the endangered species,” noted South Midwood resident Florence Valentino. “I am an R6. On my property, two two−family townhouses could be built. This is a shame, If the developers move in, they can change forever something we can never recapture for our children.”
Besides rezoning Victorian Flatbush, the plan highlights include up−zoning some commercial strips, and imposing a height limit on apartment building areas that now have none. These areas, now zoned R6 and R7−1, would for the most part be rezoned R6A and R7A, with 70 and 80−foot maximum building heights, respectively.
The one concern about the proposal brought up at the meeting was the reduction of commercial overlays from 150 feet to 100 feet on the side streets off of Church Avenue. Mark Dicus, the executive director of the Church Avenue Business Improvement District, pointed out that, on some of these streets, the revised commercial overlay “leaves out buildings that currently have ground floor retail.” While current businesses would be grandfathered in, “In a redevelopment scenario of these properties,” ground floor retail would not be permitted, Dicus noted, adding that the omission “may have been an oversight,” and asking that “the proposal be amended” to include any properties where ground floor retail currently exists.
The rezoning will encompass 200 blocks of northern Flatbush, within an area generally bounded by Coney Island Avenue on the west; Caton, Parkside and Clarkson Avenues on the north; Bedford Avenue and the CB 14 boundary on the east; and Avenue H and Campus Road on the south.
The City Planning Commission is expected to hear the proposal next month. If it is approved by them, it will move on to the City Council.