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Rezone Nixed in Brighton

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Brighton Beach will not be downzoned.

The Department of City Planning (DCP) has withdrawn its proposed rezoning plan after failing to reach a consensus with City Councilmember Mike Nelson, who had lobbied for less restrictive zoning laws in the bungalow district to ensure that property values remain high.

Without the passage of the rezoning plan, Brighton Beach’s existing zoning laws, which place no height limit on new buildings in most of the area, will remain. That means residents can still sell their properties to developers who pay big bucks to construct sky-high towers next to modest homes.

“I believe that Councilman Nelson got what he wanted,” said Marion Cleaver, chair of Community Board 13.

Nelson said bungalow residents are “very happy” with City Planning’s decision because “no plan is better than a bad plan.”

But Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz believes, “The community is now forced to go forward without the protection of a rational development plan that would have allowed expansion for the community but would have prohibited overly large buildings that pose a fire safety and aesthetic threat.”

City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden explained the stalemate with Nelson, saying, “It has become apparent that there is no appropriate zoning solution that can reconcile the diverse concerns of multiple stakeholders, while preserving sound planning principles of light, air, health and fire safety.”

According to City Planning, Nelson repeatedly changed his position on the proposed rezoning plan. After first supporting it, he surprised Community Board 13 members when he asked them to reject the plan (with recommendations for a revamping). He later changed his requested zoning for the area, according to City Planning. Officials had also said that his proposed zoning would have created “little towers” lacking access to air and light and inaccessible to fire trucks.

Nelson counters that he “consistently maintained his position and consistently advocated on behalf of Brighton Beach constituen­ts.”

He believes the impasse was the result of his opposition to City Planning’s “upzoning” of Brighton Beach Avenue by allowing new buildings up to 10 stories tall. Currently, there is no height limit on the avenue.

Critics of the city’s plan applauded its demise.

“Zoning with no regard to what the community wants is a bad plan for the area,” said Brighton 8th Street resident Shimon Rinkovsky.

Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District and a member of Community Board 13, said the community was faced with the “not so good” existing zoning and the city’s “very bad” proposed plan.

“I am happy for this but honestly, I’m not jumping up and down because such a decision does not satisfy everyone, but it would be the best of the two possible scenarios,” Makhnin said.

The plan’s supporters say Brighton Beach is now unprotected from out-of-scale development and the neighborhood’s infrastructure will likely suffer.

“They’ve left the door open for developers to keep on building multi-story towers on narrow lanes with inadequate sewer lines,” said Brighton Beach resident Ida Sanoff.

“I’ve always been concerned about the infrastructure in Brighton Beach,” Cleaver said. “It’s unfortunate %u2013 or maybe fortunate %u2013 for Brighton that the economy is such that developers are probably not going to be building there for a very long time.”

While Nelson is receiving thanks from residents eager to let development proceed, others are pointing fingers at him. They say the rezoning plan was withdrawn because of Community Board 13’s rejection, which Nelson said was the only way to force city officials to consider his proposed zoning changes.

“Everybody drank Mike Nelson’s Kool-Aid. Nobody thought for themselves,” Sanoff said.

Nelson says, “I would hope that it was not CB13’s ‘disapproval with recommenda­tions’ that resulted in DCP’s withdrawal of the plan, for that would mean that the public review process is not a review process at all, but merely a procedural tool for legitimizing a one-sided plan that gives the appearance of public participat­ion.”

A City Planning source told this paper that it’s unlikely that officials will again attempt to rezone Brighton Beach.

“I do not believe that City Planning will ever take another look at Brighton,” Cleaver said.

Nelson will submit his proposed rezoning plan to the City Council’s Land Use Committee.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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