Crown Heights board takes novel approach to local development
A Crown Heights community board is taking zoning matters into its own hands, crafting an enforcement mechanism to ensure a developer adheres to its vision of a neighborhood where artisanal makers and industrial workers can both live and work.
Elie Pariente is trying to get his vacant lot at 985 Pacific St. in Crown Heights rezoned so he can construct a nine-story apartment building. The property is currently zoned for manufacturing.
Community Board 8 wants him to make a binding commitment to set aside part of the proposed building’s ground-floor commercial space for light manufacturing in perpetuity — a commitment the community board would monitor and enforce, which is unusual.
The development site is located within the proposed M-Crown district, an area CB8 has been trying for several years to get upzoned to promote the construction of affordable housing and space for job-generating light industrial businesses, artisanal makers and community facilities.
Pariente, the principal and founder of development firm EMP Capital Group, told the Brooklyn Eagle he’s “open to an enforcement mechanism” to ensure part of 985 Pacific St.’s commercial space is rented to these types of tenants.
“The idea is for the building to be compliant with the vision the community board has. So whatever we have to put into place to make sure the building follows their vision is what will happen,” Pariente told the Eagle after a City Planning Commission hearing on Wednesday about EMP Capital Group’s rezoning application. “We would like to abide by the M-Crown vision.”
Community Board 8 drew up a binding agreement about 985 Pacific St.’s commercial space, and gave it to Pariente earlier this week. He told the Eagle he’s studying the agreement and “the attorneys obviously have to work through it.”
The community board wants light manufacturing businesses to have space at 985 Pacific St. because “we need local jobs … We want people to be able to walk to work,” CB8 Chairperson Ethel Tyus said at Wednesday’s hearing about the Grand Avenue and Pacific Street Rezoning, as EMP Capital Group’s proposal is called.
‘The community board decided to step up’
“The board has proposed its own enforcement mechanism where none presently exists,” CB8 M-Crown Subcommittee member Gib Veconi said in his testimony.
“It’s pretty extraordinary that you’ve laid this out and quite honestly that the community board is willing, and I hope able, to follow through [on it],” City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz told him. “That’s a lot for a community board to take on.”
Veconi responded that it’s not CB8’s “preference” to get involved in enforcement, but the board is offering to do so in the absence of neighborhood rezoning. The board has spoken with community partners who could potentially help carry out some of the enforcement tasks, he added.
A source familiar with the agreement Community Board 8 has drafted told the Eagle it’s unusual for a board to monitor and enforce zoning stipulations.
“The community board decided to step up and be an instrument towards future dialogue, meaning enforceability in some form,” the source said. “In this Internet-sharing world, this could be the start of a trend. You never know.”
Some community boards might shy away from adopting this strategy out of fear that enforcement measures could be expensive.
“If you write language that requires something to be lawyered up, it’s not like community boards are going to have resources [for that],” the source said. But they could find ways to line up money for enforcement, like doing fundraising or requiring the property owner to post a bond.
Caterers, printers or TV studios
In November, Community Board 8 voted to withhold its support of Pariente’s rezoning proposal unless he makes a binding commitment to allocate at least a quarter of 985 Pacific St.’s ground-floor commercial space to M-Crown uses and agrees that the community board will monitor and enforce the commitment, Tyus wrote in a letter to City Planning Commission Chairperson Marisa Lago and City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo.
These uses include caterers, laboratories, printers, commercial art galleries, breweries and photo, film, TV and radio studios, the letter said. The commitment must remain in effect if the property’s ownership is transferred.
Pariente is planning to construct a 64-unit apartment building. Sixteen of the units would be permanently affordable for tenants earning 60 percent of area median income, an Environmental Assessment Statement about the project says. That income level is $44,820 per year for individuals.
Wednesday’s hearing was a step in the city’s land-use process, which development projects are required to undergo when zoning changes are sought. The process entails votes by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
Pariente’s site on the corner of Grand Avenue and Pacific Street is currently zoned M1-1, which allows light manufacturing and commercial buildings with a floor-area ratio of 1.0 to be constructed — essentially, a one-story building if it covers the entire lot. It also allows some types of community facilities with a floor-area-ratio of 2.4, the Environmental Assessment Statement says. FAR, or floor-area ratio, is the zoning formula that determines buildings’ height and bulk.
EMP Capital Group is asking that 985 Pacific St. be given a mixed-use R7D zoning with a C2-4 commercial overlay and be turned into an Inclusionary Housing designated area, the Environmental Assessment Statement says. This rezoning opens it up to residential and retail uses, and allows them to build taller; under the proposed zoning, it would have a maximum floor-area ratio of 5.6 for residential use and 2.0 for commercial use.
A big mural and bike parking
Renderings of 985 Pacific St. show a russet-hued brick building with an oversized canopy at its base and glass-clad, set-back terraces. The apartments would be a mix of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
The building will have a big mural painted on the side of it, architect Nick Liberis said at Wednesday’s hearing.
The property would have parking spaces for 35 bicycles but none for cars.
The development site has 100 feet of frontage on Pacific Street and 100 feet of frontage on Grand Avenue. Pariente purchased the property through an LLC for $6.05 million in 2018, city Finance Department records indicate.
The proposed M-Crown district encompasses terrain in Crown Heights and Prospect Heights. It includes an area bordered by Atlantic and Grand avenues, Bergen Street and Franklin Avenue as well as the south side of Atlantic Avenue from Grand to Vanderbilt avenues.
There are numerous vacant lots and properties that are used for truck parking and storage in the district.
In September, CB8 passed a resolution asking the Department of City Planning to start community outreach efforts that would be a preliminary step in moving forward with the M-Crown rezoning. At that time, a DCP spokesperson told the Eagle the agency looked forward to continuing to work with the community board on the M-Crown initiative.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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