Community groups band together to oppose 49-story Downtown Brooklyn tower

They hope to sway Councilmember Levin before Wed. vote

September 30, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A planned 49-story tower at 141 Willoughby St., shown in the rendering above, has united community groups and co-op boards in Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn opposed to rezoning that would allow it to be taller than currently permitted. Courtesy of Morris Adjmi Architects
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Six community groups and co-op boards in Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn have formed a consortium to fight off a plan to build a 49-story luxury-apartment tower with affordable units in Downtown Brooklyn.

If rezoning sought by Savanna, a NYC-based real estate firm, is approved, the new development would be 150 percent larger than what is now allowed in much of Downtown Brooklyn.

The city-owned site at 141 Willoughby St. is currently occupied by a small building that houses the Institute of Design and Construction.

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Opponents say that allowing the rezoning would exacerbate the area’s already overburdened infrastructure, including overcrowded schools, and “would set a dangerous precedent by opening the door for other developers to seek a similar upzoning of their Downtown properties.”

The consortium — which includes the Brooklyn Heights Association and the boards of 101 Clark Street (Cadman Towers), 10 Clinton Street, 75 Henry Street, 140 Cadman Plaza West and Concord Village — has targeted Councilmember Stephen Levin as the local council member whose vote will greatly influence the entire City Council, which will vote on the rezoning next week.

The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) has asked its members to email Levin and show up to testify on Oct. 5 at the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.

In an e-blast on Thursday, BHA said, “The Downtown Brooklyn Plan, approved in 2004, was expected to create the city’s third major commercial center. Instead, developers seized the opportunity to build 10,000 mostly luxury residential units. Despite the recognized need for 3,000 new school seats for this population, the city has been unable to find a single appropriate school site in the area.”

A member of the board of 101 Clark Street told the Brooklyn Eagle that the building has started a petition to Councilmember Levin and the subcommittee and had garnered more than 140 signatures by press time on Friday. The building hopes to have 200 residents show up at the hearing, the board member said.

On Friday, Councilmember Levin told the Brooklyn Eagle, “In the past few weeks I’ve heard from members of the public regarding this rezoning and I will continue to listen throughout this entire process. One particular point among many that merits additional consideration is the effect of additional development on our local infrastructure.”

He added, “I am looking forward to the upcoming public meeting, and I invite everyone in the community to attend and voice their concerns.”

CB2 votes no, City Planning Commission votes yes

 “We’re seeing additional stress on our infrastructure,” committee member Bill Flounoy said at a Community Board 2 Land Use Committee hearing in May. Members stressed a lack of investment in schools, transit, sewage and other infrastructure. CB2 voted against Savana’s rezoning application.

Mark Spector, a city Economic Development Corp. rep, said at the CB2 hearing that the floor plates of the proposed building would be too small to be suitable for a public school.

At a June hearing at Borough Hall, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce backed the plan, praising the development’s contribution toward the continued growth of Downtown Brooklyn, as well as the provision of community improvements, affordable housing, office space and ground floor retail space.

In his July recommendation to the City Planning Commission, Borough President Eric Adams disapproved the plan “with modifications.”

Adams requested several changes; he disapproved what he called “an unprecedented floor area ratio (FAR) in the borough’s central business district” as well as the sale of municipal air rights at a NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) building located at 295 Flatbush Avenue Extension. He asked that the project include cultural space and new school seats as well as affordable housing units for families and senior citizens.

The City Planning Commission voted to approve the plan, noting that some modifications could be subject to discussions with Councilmember Levin, such as the provision of affordable units for seniors.

Savanna bought 141 Willoughby St. in January 2014. The roughly 400,000-square-foot tower would include 94,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of retail space. It would include 270 residential units, with about 80 of these permanently affordable.

The applicants listed on the zoning change are 385 Gold Property Investors, NYC Department of Housing and Preservation and the NYC Economic Development Corporation. They seek a zoning map change from C6-1 and C6-4 to a C6-6 district, and a city map change to eliminate and close a portion of Flatbush Avenue Extension at its intersection with Gold Street, the site of a tiny park, among other changes. They also seek to make the project area a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Area, establish a FAR of 18 and change height and setback regulations.

The City Council Hearing takes place Wednesday, Oct. 5 at the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. The hearing will be at 250 Broadway, 16th Floor at 9 a.m.

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