Crown Heights

The two competing visions for a Crown Heights ‘development desert’

After years of back and forth, the city and community members still struggle over the future of North Crown Heights.

July 26, 2019 Lore Croghan
The Franklin Avenue Shuttle runs through the M-Crown zoning district. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

A group of Community Board 8 members wants to upzone part of North Crown Heights so that any residential developers would be required to build space for light industrial businesses, artisanal makers or community facilities in their projects.

A team of Department of City Planning staffers wants to upzone the same area so residential developers will have the option — but not the obligation — to include industrial space in their projects.

The two sides are working to reach a consensus on M-Crown, the proposed rezoning a CB8 subcommittee has been working on for five years.

“We already have public policy that subsidizes affordable housing,” said subcommittee member Gib Veconi. “We believe it’s time for public policy that cross-subsidizes manufacturing as well — or else we just won’t have any.”

The cross-subsidy — a practice through which one party pays higher prices to lower costs for another party — would come from market-rate housing that developers would construct on their sites.

The light industrial and maker uses that the upzoning aims to protect are considered “Innovation Economy” uses, whose growth could be threatened by rising real estate prices, speakers at a June Center for an Urban Future conference said.

‘Development desert’

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo (who reps Community District 8) and an array of advocates recently announced their support for CB8’s M-Crown rezoning proposal, the Brooklyn Eagle previously reported.

The M-Crown zoning district consists of six blocks bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Grand Avenue, Bergen Street and Franklin Avenue, plus the southern side of Atlantic Avenue from Grand to Vanderbilt avenues, which is partly located in Prospect Heights.

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Numerous lots in the area are vacant or are used for truck parking or storage. The district is currently zoned M1-1, which only allows single-story commercial or industrial buildings to be constructed.

Gib Veconi is a member of the M-Crown Subcommittee, which has crafted an upzoning proposal for part of North Crown Heights. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Gib Veconi is a member of the M-Crown Subcommittee, which has crafted an upzoning proposal for part of North Crown Heights. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“As long as that area retains that zoning designation, it’s going to be kind of a development desert,” Veconi said.

The subcommittee’s original proposal recommended that a new type of blanket zoning be created for the district, in the hopes of seeing “all of the stakeholders treated equally,” according to Veconi.

Protecting light industrial and maker jobs

The M-Crown zoning that was initially proposed called for a floor area ratio of 5.6 for new construction. Floor area ratio — or FAR — is the total square footage on all the floors of a building divided by the square footage of the land on which it stands. The higher the FAR number, the denser the development. In the case of M-Crown, a minimum of 1.5 FAR had to be used for industrial, manufacturing and commercial space. The rest of the FAR was for residential construction.

The M-Crown Subcommittee drew up the zoning proposal after doing “extensive financial analysis with the assistance of affordable-housing developers to look at what kind of zoning would create a feasible project,” Veconi said.

Community Board 8 members are working on an upzoning proposal for an area in North Crown Heights that includes several blocks of Atlantic Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Community Board 8 members are working on an upzoning proposal for an area in North Crown Heights that includes several blocks of Atlantic Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

CB8 — which represents North Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Weeksville — passed a resolution in 2015 requesting a Department of City Planning study about rezoning the district. But instead of adopting the community’s proposal, agency staffers issued a rezoning framework in 2017 with different types of zoning proposed for different blocks. They also increased the size of the area to be rezoned, including some blocks located in Community District 3.

The M-Crown Subcommittee revised its proposal in an effort to answer DCP’s objections. In 2018, DCP responded with another version of its rezoning framework.

“We didn’t think this framework was totally responsive to the community’s vision either,” Veconi recalled. “But at that point, we had been going on for four years on this. And we had a bunch of stakeholders who said, ‘Look. How long are we going to have to wait on this?’

“So the community board said, ‘Okay. Instead of starting over again with a new plan, let’s see if we can work with what City Planning has presented and try to get it as close as possible to the community vision.”

‘Creative solutions’

In response to questions about the agency’s vision for the rezoning and the reasoning behind it, a DCP spokesperson said the agency was “pleased to continue to work with community boards, elected officials and neighborhood groups, including in Crown Heights, on creative solutions that bring more housing and good jobs, in a broad array of sectors, closer to more New Yorkers, and which allow an evolving range of businesses to locate in close proximity to residences.”

There are lots of auto-repair facilities in the M-Crown zoning district. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
There are lots of auto-repair facilities in the M-Crown zoning district. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

DCP’s Brooklyn Deputy Director Alex Sommer and DCP staffer Jonah Rogoff gave a presentation on Tuesday night about their agency’s upzoning framework at a CB8 Land Use Committee meeting.

During the presentation, Sommer said the two groups must reach a consensus about proposed rezoning before next steps — like filing a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application — can be initiated.

Big-picture consensus

“I want to highlight that consensus doesn’t mean agreement on density. It doesn’t mean agreement on heights or even the boundaries themselves of the land-use framework,” Sommer said during his presentation. “We’d like to say broadly speaking, we’re in agreement on what the framework is.”

This map shows the Department of City Planning’s framework for rezoning the M-Crown area. Image via the Department of City Planning
This map shows the Department of City Planning’s framework for rezoning the M-Crown area. Image via the Department of City Planning

DCP’s proposed zoning includes an MX zoning designation for a mid-block section of the district south of Atlantic Avenue, which would permit moderate-density, mixed-use residential and commercial development.

There would be an incentive for non-residential construction in this section, but no requirement that space be built for light industrial businesses and artisanal makers. 

Moving forward

Veconi — who said he’s a firm believer in “patient diplomacy” — told the Eagle there’s a “fundamental disagreement” between the DCP team and the CB8 M-Crown Subcommittee.

“Their position is, ‘We want to create as much flexibility for the developer as possible so we get the most development.’ The community position is, ‘We want to create some flexibility for the developer too, but we want some value recapture for employment inside the community,’ ” he explained.

“You can think of them as advocating for the developer and the community board as advocating for the community.”

This Classon Avenue bar and performance venue, which is called Friends and Lovers, is located in the M-Crown zone. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
This Classon Avenue bar and performance venue, which is called Friends and Lovers, is located in the M-Crown zone. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

To date, the M-Crown Subcommittee has had 39 public meetings in which more than 250 different people have participated.

“We want to keep the process moving forward,” Veconi said. “But to be candid, the arguments we’ve heard against having use requirements for light manufacturing have not been convincing … at this point, we’re not ready to give up that part of the vision.”

CB8’s Land Use Committee plans to hold further public meetings about the proposed rezoning in the fall.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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