R-e-s-p-e-c-t the z-o-n-i-n-g, Vinegar Hill residents tell property owners.
‘We heard everybody’s concerns,' their lawyer assured the Brooklyn Eagle.
Michael and Tom Spinard wanted to build a nine-unit apartment building with shops on their corrugated fence-enclosed Vinegar Hill property, which has been a parking lot since the 1950s.
Neighborhood residents who oppose their development plan said they got the zoning all wrong.
Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee voted down the Spinard brothers’ plan for 265 Front St. on Wednesday night and told them to come back with a design for a smaller development.
The site is located at the intersection of Front and Gold streets in Vinegar Hill, a quiet, mostly low-rise waterfront neighborhood adjacent to tourist magnet DUMBO. This intersection became a zoning battleground three years ago when the owner of another site there, 251 Front St., applied for rezoning that would have allowed him to construct a nine-story apartment building.
The Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association and numerous area residents opposed the bulky development at 251 Front St. In June 2017, property owner Paul Tocci ended his rezoning effort when it became clear the neighborhood’s City Councilmember Stephen Levin wouldn’t support it in a City Council vote.
The resolution about 265 Front St. on which the committee voted on Wednesday night didn’t specify what zoning the Spinard brothers should use in their new design proposal.
But committee members’ discussions before the vote and sharply critical testimony from Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association members made it clear they believed it should be R6B — a type of low-rise residential zoning found in Vinegar Hill which is suitable for rowhouse districts — with no retail space.
The development plan presented to the community board on Wednesday night called for R6A zoning, which permits medium-density residential construction, plus a C2-4 commercial overlay that would allow ground floor shops to be constructed.
The Spinard brothers’ lawyer says they intend to come up with a plan that Vinegar Hill residents and CB2 members will find acceptable.
“We all walked out of there last night and said to each other, ‘We heard everybody’s concerns.’ And we’re going to accommodate their request to reduce the zoning to R6B with no commercial overlay,” attorney Eric Palatnik told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday.
Wednesday night’s vote was part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure process, or ULURP, that’s required when New York City property owners seek zoning changes for development sites.
The Spinard brothers, who own TS Contracting, have used the lot at 265 Front St. as parking for their company’s trucks since the 1980s. The property is currently zoned M1-2, which would allow light industrial and commercial uses and some types of community facilities to be built.
The Spinard brothers’ Front Street site is adjacent to Greek Revival-style brick homes on Gold Street that are part of the Vinegar Hill Historic District. They were constructed between 1841 and 1852.
No restrictive declaration, please
“We invite residential development in underutilized or abandoned sections of the neighborhood as long as it fits with the contextual nature of what makes Vinegar Hill so unique and such a great community,” Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association President Aldona Vaiciunas said in a letter to CB2’s Land Use Committee.
“To increase this zoning to R6A will irreparably destroy this neighborhood and would set a precedent for future developers to ask for the same if not higher zoning,” Vaiciunas said.
Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association member Monique Denoncin also argued that low-rise R6B zoning would be appropriate for 265 Front St. “We do not want to be the reflection of DUMBO,” she said in her testimony.
In 1998, the Department of City Planning, with the help of local residents, changed the zoning in part of Vinegar Hill to R6B with a 50-foot height limit for new construction. Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, who testified at 1998 hearings about that rezoning, called for R6B zoning for 265 Front St. on Wednesday night.
In a presentation about the design proposal that was rejected, the Spinard brothers’ lawyer said they wanted to construct a four-story building although R6A zoning would allow them to go higher. They didn’t want to incur the expense of installing an elevator.
Palatnik said his clients would be willing to sign a restrictive declaration that would limit in perpetuity the height of any building constructed on the property. Community board members dismissed this idea, and said the City of New York doesn’t respect restrictive declarations.
A few years ago, the owner of Lower East Side nursing home Rivington House paid the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to remove a deed restriction limiting the property’s use, then sold the site to developers.
The Prince of American Catholic Architects
A few more details about 265 Front St.: Thomas Spinard purchased the property in 1983 and his brother Michael Spinard became its co-owner in 1992, city Finance Department records indicate. The property has a prefabricated steel building on it for parking trucks.
From about 1950 until 1985, a paper company located nearby used 265 Front St. as a parking lot, an Environmental Assessment Statement that was drawn up for the property’s rezoning proposal says.
As for 251 Front St., the site whose rezoning Vinegar Hill residents fought against three few years ago, it has been sold for $20 million to CW Realty, the Real Deal reported in January. The development firm plans to construct a five-story, 59-unit rental-apartment building, the story said.
The Eagle requested comment from CW Realty about the project plans earlier this month, but the company has not responded.
In the 1990s, 251 Front St.’s then-owner, Tocci, demolished the 1860s Roman Catholic Church of St. Ann, which stood on the property. It was designed by Patrick Charles Keely, who was known as the Prince of American Catholic Architects.
If you liked this story, read about landmarked Vinegar Hill, where there’s a mansion built around 1805.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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Why should the city listen to these horrible people who demand that any housing that comes be luxury housing? A building with apartments is going to be cheaper than demanding Greek Revival rowhouses. But this city is cursed with a land-use process that empowers the selfish folks who’ve already got theirs, and we’re all worse off for it.