The plan is nuanced. The reaction from the community has been anything but.
The de Blasio administration has proposed citywide zoning changes intended to improve the interior environment and façade design of new developments, plus ease the way for providing new senior housing. A representative from the department of city planning met with the local community board’s zoning committee on June 11 to explain the plan (known as Zoning for Quality and Affordability), and the plan was presented to the full board at the regular monthly meeting a few days later.
The new proposal seeks to increase the allowable height of buildings located in very carefully delineated zoning districts in Bay Ridge, to provide better design as well as a slight increase in density for only those specific zones. There is a great deal more to the plan than this, but as soon as the word “density” was spoken, the predictable, knee-jerk reaction is that they’re trying to turn Bay Ridge into another Williamsburg, an unrecognizeable forest of spanking-new condo towers swamping the neighborhood with outsiders and overburdening our infrastructure. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Let me explain.
First, the proposal would apply only to the most densely populated zoning districts in Bay Ridge, R5, R6 and R7 multifamily zoning districts, which basically include the buildings that front Third, Fourth and Fifth avenues, plus certain parts of Ridge Boulevard and Shore Road. (See zoning maps of Bay Ridge here and here.) This is where the midrise, multifamily housing in Bay Ridge has been located ever since the neighborhood was built out in the 1920s. Because the basic zoning of these districts would not change, there is no incentive to demolish and replace existing buildings that are still profitable. In other words, the impact of the increased heights allowable in these zones, negligible to begin with, would not be felt for years, possibly decades.
Increased heights would be primarily a result of increased floor-to-floor heights required in the proposal, as well as an innovative allowance for taking floor areas carved out from facades and adding that to the roofs of new buildings. The goal of both of these changes is to allow new buildings to depart from the flat façade, rectangular shoe-box type of design that has been prevalent over the past 40 years, and return to the more artistic designs of the prewar period.
The DCP, for its part, has scheduled the mandatory 60-day period for public comment over the summer, when the CB is out of session and people are away on vacation in a crude attempt to minimize public feedback. Community Board 10 voted to request an extended review period of six months to study this proposal more carefully and assess its impact on the local cityscape in detail. If the DCP is confident these changes are good for the neighborhood, it should grant this extension.
The author is a member of Community Board 10.
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