Bay Ridge

Bay Ridge board OKs school construction on 92 Street

Neighbors charge 4-story building will be too large

November 18, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Over the fierce objections of local residents, Bay Ridge’s community board voted Monday night to recommend that the city approve a controversial plan by the owners of a private school to construct a four-story building on 92nd Street.

Community Board 10 voted in favor of the plans by the Greek School of Plato for a new school at 670 92nd St. after a marathon, jammed-packed meeting attended by more than 100 people and which lasted more than three hours as proponents and opponents sought to get their points across.

The approval of the community board means that the owners of the Greek School of Plato are one step closer to attaining their dream of opening a new site at 670 92nd St. The owners were required to bring the matter before the community board because the height and density of the proposed new building would technically violate zoning regulations. The school is seeking a zoning variance from the city to move ahead with the multi-million dollar project.

There was a great deal of lobbying going on behind the scenes prior to Monday’s meeting, according to board members, who said people claiming to be connected with the school made numerous phone calls to members urging them to vote yes.

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“We were inundated with calls. I got seven phone calls in one day on this,” a member told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Residents who live near the site pleaded with the community board to turn down the plan. Neighbors charged that the four-story building would be too tall for the block and that it would encroach on them by blocking their sunlight and air. Residents also said the school would bring in too much traffic to the area.

“It’s the height of the building. It’s the amount of traffic. Let’s make it a smaller building,” said Elaine O’Rourke, a local homeowner. Another resident said that at four-stories, the school would be “twice the size” of other houses on the block. “It changes the place. It’s a quality of life issue,” he said.

The issue illustrated the tug of war that always goes on when the city has to make decisions on what to do with a parcel of unused land in Brooklyn and is forced to confront questions of development versus the rights of people already living in the vicinity.

The matter was so contentious that the board’s Zoning and Land Use Committee, which met three separate times over the past month to  discuss the issue, couldn’t come to a consensus on what to recommend to the full board. At Monday’s meeting, Zoning Committee Chairman Ann Falutico said her committee was evenly split at 4-4 in two separate votes.

The Greek School of Plato, which currently rents classroom space in Lutheran Elementary School in Bay Ridge, was established in 1977. The school offers Greek language lessons and classes focusing on Greek history and culture. The 92nd Street site would not be jumping every day of the week, as regular schools do, but instead would offer after-school programs and weekend classes, school officials stated at the community board meeting.

Jordan Most, an attorney representing the school, said the proposed building would not be that much taller than what would have been allowed under the zoning regulations.

Most also said the school would not generate as much traffic as neighbors feared. “Students are spread out throughout the week,” he said, adding that the school is not a regular educational facility where hundreds of parents in cars are double parking and dropping children off at the same time each morning.

The 92nd Street site used to be a one-story medical center. The health care facility closed and the site is currently unoccupied.

Some supporters of the school scoffed at the traffic concerns expressed by opponents. The supporters claimed that the busy medical building formerly located at the site, which housed several doctors’ offices, saw much more traffic than the school would likely see and that no one in the vicinity complained at the time.

Here are the numbers behind the project: Zoning regulations allow for a 35-foot- tall building at the site, according to Falutico, who said the school would be 59 feet, 6 inches tall. The building would take up 10,500 square feet, while the zoning law allows for a 9,000 square foot building. The building would also take up 64 percent of the land on the lot. Under current zoning, a building can’t take up more than 55 percent.

The city’s approval is still pending. The issue will be taken up by the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals.

Community board member Stephen Harrison, who voted in favor of the proposal, disputed the contention of residents that the school would be too tall and would be out of character with the surrounding community. He pointed out that there are several tall apartment buildings in the vicinity, as well as the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate at Bay Ridge, an urgent care center located across the street from the school site. “You can’t just skip over those buildings and just count the houses,” Harrison said.

But another board member, Doris Cruz, expressed concern that the size of the school would set a precedent that would put pressure on the board the next time an applicant comes looking for a zoning variance. “We should adhere to the zoning resolution,” she said.

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