A popular Sheepshead Bay market that has operated outside the law for nearly six years took an important step towards legitimacy last week, but opposition from elected officials could still derail the zoning tweak it needs.
Community Board 15 voted 20–2 in favor of supporting a zoning change that would allow the Cherry Hill Gourmet Market, which opened illegally in the landmarked Lundy’s building in 2009, to operate lawfully within the Special Sheepshead Bay District on the waterfront after a public hearing on Feb. 3. The proposal now goes to the Department of City Planning for a final ruling — but with both the local councilman and Borough President Adams recommending the city reject the proposal.
Dozens of residents turned out to support Cherry Hill, which won over many locals after it reopened quickly following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy when other storefronts in the hard-hit community remained shuttered for months.
Sheepshead Bay’s special zoning — established in 1973 — limits commercial land use in the waterfront district to tourism-oriented developments such as restaurants, candy stores, bookstores, and gift shops.
One of several Cherry Hill employees who spoke at the meeting said he believes the special zoning is outdated and doesn’t reflect the wishes of the residents — many of whom, like the owners of the market, are Russian immigrants.
“I can’t believe this is 2015,” said Noah Yevolayev. “I understand the zoning issue, however, the neighborhood has changed. The time has changed.”
One resident said the rezoning is part of a larger fight for recognition for the area’s Russian immigrants, making a somewhat hyperbolic comparison to the civil rights movement.
“Today is my ‘Selma,’ ” said Raisa Chernina, referring to the recent movie depicting Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for equal rights. “If we didn’t stand for our community, we’re going to lose.”
But a longtime local who opposes the market said the zoning must be enforced to protect the area for the future generations, regardless of their background.
“Zoning is designed so everything works together,” said Steve Barrison, president of the Bay Improvement Group, who was booed throughout the meeting by Cherry Hill supporters. “You’re suggesting we throw out the zoning because certain uses or demographics or immigration changes happen? The special district is designed to last 150–200 years.”
The local councilman said he didn’t want to shut down the popular market, but found fault with the vague wording of the zoning amendment, which would change the zoning for the entire Lundy’s building, instead of just allowing the supermarket.
“I believe and I feel that we need to make sure that small businesses succeed, people have jobs,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D–Sheepshead Bay), “but we need to do this right.”
The board did make an oral amendment to limit the scope of the zoning change, but Deutsch said he would still withhold his support.
Adams weighed in the day after the vote, reiterating Deutsch’s concern about the overly broad language and recommending that the city deny the zoning change.
Some opponents also took issue with the fact that the board was one vote shy of a quorum when it approved the change because one member left the meeting early before the Cherry Hill vote. But CB15 Chairwoman Theresa Scavo said that the vote still stands because no one formally called for another headcount after the member left.
“The quorum is 23 but when it came time, no one made a motion to vote that we lost the quorum,” said Scavo, adding that the quorum call at the beginning of the meeting, when left unchallenged, validated the Cherry Hill vote.
The final decision by the city is expected on Feb. 18, and because the board’s vote contradicts the recommendations of both Deutsch and the beep, Scavo said the city’s ultimate decision is impossible to predict. But she said that momentum seems to be building to settle a controversy that has drawn out for more than six years.
“Everyone seems to be on board to come to a conclusion,” said Scavo.