Newtown Creek’s Brooklyn waterfront faces first zoning changes in nearly 60 years

April 10, 2019 Paul Stremple
The DCP is proposing changes to the North Brooklyn area for the first time since 1961. Eagle photo by Paul Stremple
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The city’s plan for rezoning the North Brooklyn Industrial Zone is beginning to come into focus, with the goal of encouraging job growth by reworking restrictive zoning to allow for taller buildings, less parking and more density.

The Department of City Planning’s updates to the proposed rezoning now feature details about the potential changes to the FAR (Floor Area Ratio), a measurement that reflects the ratio between the total floor area of the building and the square footage of the lot on which it is built. Changes to the FAR would determine the height of new buildings, as well as the types of establishments that will be allowed in the updated rezoning.

While underlying industrial zoning will remain the same, DCP is proposing changes to the area for the first time since 1961, splitting the thousand-plus acre industrial area of Greenpoint, East Williamsburg and Bushwick into three zones: Core Industrial, Transition and Growth.

Image via Department of City Planning

In the Core Industrial areas, the city is looking to build on the 20,000 existing jobs in heavy industry by allowing for increased FAR for industrial use and cutting down on restrictive parking requirements. The FAR for all uses in the core industrial zones will be doubled to 2.0.

This updated zoning will specifically exclude large-scale nightlife establishments in the core industrial areas, and will limit the size of dining, retail and office space. Existing uses will be grandfathered in, DCP representatives confirmed.

Two uses of industrial space that have plagued New York communities over the years — hotels and self-storage facilities — have been subject to zoning amendments by the City Council. The M1 Hotel Text Amendment, passed late last year, will now require a special permit for hotels in industrial areas in an effort to check their development.

Related: Everything you need to know about the Bushwick Community Plan

In Transitional Areas, height incentives for community facilities, like hospitals and houses of worship, will be lowered to keep the focus on industrial growth, said DCP representatives. Industrial uses will be granted increased FAR, with the goal of stimulating job creation.

Though DCP specifically mentioned nonprofit arts spaces as key elements of the new transition areas, there is concern that nonprofit and community organizations won’t be able to compete with industrial or tech tenants that the zoning hopes to attract as landlords seek to maximize their profits.

Finally, under the new zoning rules, Growth Areas near transit — along the L train and south of Grand Street, for example — would eschew parking requirements all together, as the city looks to create dense, mixed-use areas with loft-style buildings that will attract tech and media tenants. In these areas, the FAR ranges from 3.0 to 5.0. Light industry would be encouraged, but heavier industrial uses would be limited as the zones transition into nearby residential blocks.

These areas would begin to allow new commercial use in order to support nearby residents and create live-work neighborhoods. That means large retail, like supermarkets, and gyms will be allowed in transition areas.

“What is the plan for enforcement of the different zonings?” asked Emily Gallagher, a Community Board 1 member. “We see a lot of great proposals, but usually no enforcement of it.”

DCP has no enforcement mechanisms for its proposals, but representatives agreed it is a “major issue” and that they’ve heard concerns “loud and clear” from stakeholders.

The city agency is working with the Department of Buildings to come up with an enforcement tool to support the changes to the IBZ.

None of the changes to zoning in the IBZ will allow for new residential use. The potential rezoning of Bushwick, however, would allow for increased residential density along nearby transit corridors. Currently, the DCP has no timeline for when a draft zoning plan for Bushwick will be released.

The DCP has previously said they’d like to have the zoning proposal finalized within the year, and while representatives mentioned future community engagement sessions, no concrete dates have been set.

Paul Stremple is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow his work on both Instagram and Twitter.

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