Brooklyn Boro

Before BQE rehab, neighbors push to freeze nearby construction

December 12, 2019 Mary Frost
The owner of 50 Old Fulton St., currently the site of a popular auto body shop next to the BQE, wants to rezone the property and 60 Old Fulton St. next door in order to develop a commercial six-story building. Image: © Google Maps 2019
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A coalition of Brooklyn community groups are urging the city to put a freeze on new construction adjacent to the section of the BQE slated for a massive reconstruction project.

Their opposition may delay the redevelopment of lots in Fulton Ferry currently occupied by two auto body repair shops and other development down the line.

The 12 organizations, which represent neighborhoods from Carroll Gardens to Vinegar Hill, want to put the brakes on the rezoning of two lots 50 Old Fulton St. and 60 Old Fulton St., because construction of a new five- or six-story building at 50 Old Fulton St. there might impede the city’s ability to redesign the BQE.

Currently, Sam’s Auto Body Shop occupies 50 Old Fulton St. and New Xcell Auto repair operates out of 60 Old Fulton St. The lot is adjacent to the current BQE overpass.

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“Approving a zoning change for these parcels prior to adoption and approval of the comprehensive plan for the BQE would not be prudent as the redevelopment of 50 Old Fulton St. would not be included as part of a well-considered plan,” Amy Breedlove, president of the Cobble Hill Association, told a panel appointed by the borough president at a land use hearing on Tuesday.

Related: BQE neighbors present city with united vision for highway’s rehab

“The administration should hold off on approving any change to the area’s zoning until the full scope of the BQE is decided,” she said. “Until that is known, the city should not approve an increase in density and height.”

Gary VanderPutten, a member of the Fulton Ferry Landing Association, testified that his group only heard about this proposal a week before Thanksgiving. Besides the BQE issue, Fulton Ferry residents have “concerns about further density” to the rapidly developing area, he said.

“This is the wrong time to consider this application,” VanderPatten told the panel.

At Community Board 2’s general meeting Wednesday night, the full board overwhelmingly recommended against the rezoning proposal, following the recommendation of its Land Use Committee.

Irene Janner, vice chair of CB2’s Land Use Committee, said she felt the rezoning was “inappropriate” considering the site is next to the BQE and could “tie the hands” of the BQE highway designers. She also said that since the triangular-shaped plot was not in the Brooklyn Heights protected historic district, the rendering shown by the develop “is not necessarily what could be built.”

The owner of 50 Old Fulton St., Alwest Old Fulton, LLC, is requesting a zoning map change for both lots, from an M2-1 district to an M1-5 zoning district in order to build a new 85-foot-tall commercial development. The proposal includes 13,200 square feet of retail and 21,450 square feet of commercial office space. Alwest was represented by Nick Hockens at the hearing.

At the Borough President’s hearing, a representative for the land use firm GreenbergTraurig said the site currently “is not the most welcoming. I don’t think it does much justice [to the property] in its current form.” The proposed structure would be in context with the surrounding neighborhood, the representative said, including the Eagle Warehouse building.

Rendering via GreenbergFarrow
Rendering: GreenbergTraurig

Operators of the popular auto body shops did not testify on Tuesday. A representative of Councilmember Stephen Levin also did not provide comment to the panel.

In response to questions from the panel, Hopkins of GreenbergTraurig said the developer would consider renewable energy usage, but cautioned that the project site was small and might not sustain these efforts. As part of a previous agreement with Community Board 2, the developer will plant trees, maintain two traffic islands and the sidewalk under the BQE overpass, he said.

Hopkins added that the developer might consider working with arts and nonprofit organizations.

Plans for the site were filed with City Planning in October 2018.

The coalition includes neighborhood groups from Vinegar Hill through DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights (which is home to smaller community groups, including 360 Furman) and the Boerum Hill Association.

In a written statement submitted to the panel, the group said that there are “two optimal possible actions” at this point in the land use process. One is for the applicant to withdraw the application and allow the city time to develop a comprehensive plan. The other, “since that has not occurred yet,” is to oppose the application, called a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — or ULURP.

“We ask you, BP [Eric] Adams, to recommend that this ULURP not be certified, under any condition,” they wrote.

The panel will be considering their recommendation over the course of the next four weeks.


Update (Dec. 13 at 2:45 p.m.): The above material has been updated to reflect that 50 Old Fulton St. and 60 Old Fulton St. are owned by two different entities, but the owner of 50 Old Fulton has applied to rezone both properties.

Update (Dec. 15 at 4:40 p.m.): The article has been updated to reflect that Irene Janner is currently vice chair of CB2’s Land Use Committee. She is no longer 1st Vice Chairperson of CB2, as was initially reported.

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  1. Ursula Hahn

    As a former resident of the area, I agree that given the impending redesign of the BQE it’s not advisable to consider the application at this time. On the other hand, knowing the delays government agencies incur to get anything done, the proposed project could be completed before contracts for the BQE are put out for bids.

  2. Roberto Gautier

    A moratorium on new development in the area might be the right moment for the city to buy the property and maintain it as a green space. A housing plan for the block would add unwanted density and an obviously-toxic spot for another human habitat. Why not use the spot for toilet facilities and water fountains for the tourist flow to Brooklyn Bridge Park?