Proposed zoning change related to Williamsburg’s 25 Kent Ave. office project is criticized at Borough Hall hearing

March 22, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This is proposed office project 25 Kent Ave., which was the subject of a ULURP hearing at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Monday night. Rendering by Steelblue
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Will this actually help industrial businesses in New York City? The critics don’t think so.

A City Planning Department proposal to tweak the zoning in a 14-block industrial section of Williamsburg came under criticism Monday night at a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) hearing at Brooklyn Borough Hall.  

The proposed change — which is called a “zoning text amendment” — that the Planning Department has drafted is related to an office and light-industrial development, 25 Kent Ave., that Toby Moskovits’ firm Heritage Equity Partners wants to build.

The proposed eight-story project would be Brooklyn’s first brand-new office building constructed on spec, meaning without any tenants signed up beforehand, in 40 years.

The zoning text amendment is proposed for an area from Kent Avenue to 200 feet east of Wythe Avenue between N. Ninth, Gem, N. 15th and Banker streets.

The amendment would enable Heritage Equity Partners — and other builders in the 14-block area — to seek special permits to increase the square footage for office use in development projects because light-industrial space would be included.

The zoning in this area allows commercial developments to add square footage in the form of “community facilities,” meaning medical offices. The zoning text amendment would provide developers an alternate way to increase their projects’ square footage.

Heritage Equity Partners and co-developer Rubenstein Partners are proposing a 486,000-square-foot building at 25 Kent Ave.

As the Brooklyn Eagle previously reported, they have applied for a special permit to include 63,714 square feet of light-industrial space in the project, and thereby be allowed to construct an additional 156,533 square feet of office space.

At the Monday night hearing presided over by Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, community activists and industrial-business retention experts said the zoning text amendment would set a precedent — a bad one — for other industrial areas.

“The zoning text can be replicated anywhere in the city,” said Armando Chapelliquen of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

As a strategy to create more industrial space, “it is so deeply flawed that we believe it will have the reverse effect, and if replicated will destabilize other industrial areas,” said Tanu Kumar of the Pratt Center for Community Development.

“The devil is in the details,” said Leah Archibald of Evergreen, an organization that provides assistance to North Brooklyn industrial businesses.

There’s no means of ensuring that the rents for the industrial space will be affordable, she noted. And how will the requirement to use a specific amount of space for industrial tenants be enforced and monitored?

Also, industrial businesses located outside the 14-block area would like to be given a tool for increasing the size of their facilities, Archibald said.

Steve Chesler, co-chair of Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park, called for a moratorium on zoning changes until the city acquires a parcel of land that’s needed for the creation of the waterfront Williamsburg park.

Some people who testified at the hearing applauded the 25 Kent Ave. office and light-industrial development proposal rather than dissecting the implications of the proposed zoning text amendment.

A rep for Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Carlo Scissura said the development has his “full support.”

Alan Washington of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership said the 25 Kent Ave. development would provide desperately needed commercial and industrial space to further Brooklyn’s “innovation economy.”

Rich Mazur, North Brooklyn Development Corp.’s executive director, said, “I’m for it. If you build it, they will come.”

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