Many Down On Caton Place ‘Upzoning’

Originally Published in the Park Slope Courier

By Charles Hack

Developer’s attorney, Marvin Mitzner of Cozen O’Connor, explains why he wants to upzone the area.
Developer’s attorney, Marvin Mitzner of Cozen O’Connor, explains why he wants to upzone the area.

A developer who has applied to City Planning to upzone a Caton Place property so he can build an eight-story condominium is facing stiff opposition from local residents. Borough President Marty Markowitz took testimony as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure hearings at Borough Hall at 209 Joralemon St. The upzoned parcel would be bounded by Caton Place, a line 100 feet southwest of East 8th Street, a line between Caton Place and Kermit Place and a line between Ocean Parkway and East 7th Street. The application submitted by the 22 Caton Place Corporation would upzone the East Windsor Terrace lot from an R6 to an R7A.

“The proposal would rezone the portion of the site, which covers most of the site but not all of it, to an R7A to match the dwellings across the Street,” said the developer’s attorney, Marvin Mitzner.

Of the 23 residents who signed up to comment on the application, only one testified in favor.

The rest argued that it would change the low-rise character of the neighborhood for the worse, would cause excessive traffic congestion and strain existing services.

“This is a neighborhood that desperately needs more planning,” said Anna Brackett, of 71 Ocean Parkway. “It is not designed to grow at this pace.”

The owner wants to build a 79,000-square-foot, eight-story condo building with 68 units, according to Mitzner.

The building would be set back from the property line, with a landscaped front, he said.

Under current R6 zoning regulations, the owner had considered constructing a five-story, 44-unit building as of right, with 49,975 square feet.

The current 7,000-square-foot site has a one-story manufacturing building. The owner would be responsible for the environmental cleanup of the polluted plot, including removing underground storage tanks.

Community Board 7, which had heard testimony earlier as part of the ULURP process, voted on Nov. 8 to reject the application on six grounds, according to Randy Peers, the chairman of the board’s Land Use committee.

Members of Community Board 7 and the public feared the developer could sell the property based on the upzoned value, and lamented an absence of badly needed affordable housing, Peers said.

“The EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) does not accurately reflect conditions in the area because it does not take into account two properties already under development in the vicinity,” said Peers. “There will be a 45 percent increase of dwellings within a seven-block area.”

Peers said the development would violate the low-rise character of east Windsor Terrace, now dominated by one- and two-family housing and anchored by the historical Kensington Stables.

He also called for a study to see if higher developments violate a 1993 Special Ocean Parkway Zoning District agreement that was set up to protect the character of blocks off the main drags.

Two of the reasons for rejecting the application have now been remediated, according to the plans Mitzner presented at the meeting.

The old proposal would have blocked windows of the adjacent building at 81 Ocean Parkway.

The new plans show a space between the buildings.

The five-story building under the existing zoning would also have had 22 fewer parking spaces than units, according to Mitzner. Under the upzoned plan, the eight-story building would have 68 parking spaces, one for each unit, Mitzner said.

“This will take cars off the street and keep them inside the development,” said Mitzner.

George Bissel, a 46-year resident who lives at 61 Kermit Place, pointed out that there have already been several large developments in the pipeline on very narrow streets, including 59 units at 346 Coney Island Avenue, 107 units at 23 Caton Place and 60 units at 362-364 Coney Island Avenue.

“There will be 600 more people living in the neighborhood, requiring all the services that we residents now receive,” said Bissel. “This increase in population and density could very well be too much.”

Warren Shaw, president of 81 Ocean Parkway Owners, Inc., the building next to the upzoned area, foresees congestion on narrow streets.

“Caton Place is not a wide boulevard. It is a one-way service road, but it carries a great deal of traffic because it leads to the adjacent traffic circle and Prospect Parkway,” said Shaw. “Caton Place is a standard side street that is about to be built upon as if it were an avenue.”

But David Loeser, a real estate agent, spoke in favor of the upzoning. He said that he believes more residential development will make housing more affordable.

Several horseback riders from Kensington Stables at 51 Caton Place – which has recently lost one of its two stables to condo development — said that additional traffic would scare their horses and cause accidents.

Kensington Stables owner Walter Blankinship said that his stables had helped the neighborhood retain a rural feel and that new development would destroy that ambiance.

Impatient drivers already scare the horses. This has already caused a number of accidents, he said. More congestion will only make matters worse. Many of the riders are young, inexperienced or disabled.

“These streets move at a different pace than other people are used to in the rest of New York,” Blankinship said. “They move at a country kind of pace.”

Asked whether the developer was planning any affordable units, Mitzner said that most government initiatives would be inappropriate for the development, but they had considered creating a cooperative development including 75 percent of units for households at 125 percent of area median income (AMI), with 25 percent going to households with incomes at 250 percent of AMI. He also said they were considering setting 20 percent of units with affordable rents. But he made no commitment.

“The decision will depend on financing and other aspects of how the city would provide this loan,” Mitzner said.

Asked whether construction jobs would go to Brooklynites, Mitzner said that only Brooklyn-based contractors would be used.

“As a Brooklynite, the owner has indicated to me that he will only look to Brooklyn firms or contractors,” said Mitzner.

©Courier-Life Publications 2006


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