Greenpoint Gazette

Contextual Healing, Maybe

BY Juliet Linderman

The twisted steel of skyscrapers slices through clouds, erupting into the most uniquely gargantuan skyline most have ever seen. Up and down the bustling boulevards, buildings explode from the concrete like urban beanstalks for superheroes to scale, leaving miniscule men and women to scurry below. All this is fine for Manhattan, but Brooklyn has its own character—the cobblestoned streets of DUMBO, Clinton Hill’s majestic brownstones enveloped in ivy, the mom n’ pop shops and little shuttered awnings of Greenpoint, the sprawling waterfront of Williamsburg—that doesn’t traditionally include mega-structures.
But, as condos and towering apartment complexes seem to appear overnight in North Brooklyn, the Greenpoint/Williamsburg community has become even more sensitive to the need for neighborhood preservation—including height restrictions on buildings. On Wednesday morning, several community members turned up in Manhattan to testify at a public hearing before the City Planning Commission, who have been presented with the plans for the proposed Greenpoint-Williamsburg Contextual Rezoning, and are required to either approve or reject them before the 60-day decision-making term expires. Of the ten Greenpoint/Williamsburg residents in attendance, nine were firmly in favor of the plans.
The Greenpoint-Williamsburg Waterfront Rezoning has been in the works for nearly three years, and as of March 2, the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Contextual Rezoning plan—an addendum to the original rezoning—has been making its rounds. It was first approved by both the community board and the Borough President’s office, and now requires a vote first from the City Planning Commission, then from City Council. If approved—a verdict is required in the next 120 days—height restrictions would be enforced on all new developments across the neighborhood. However, certain developers are looking to beat the down zoning and build as much as they can, as fast as they can.
444 Graham Avenue, the site of the Marino Marble and Tile Factory, is one such example. Located in an R6 zone, or a general residence district, the enormous site—300 feet by 57 feet—has been approved by the Department of Buildings to begin the construction of 14 stories, to contain 69 residential units. Because the permits have been filed, and preliminary permission has been granted, architect Phillip Toscano must lay the foundation for the project before contextual rezoning is passed by City Council and signed into law. If he is unable to do so, the project must be aborted. A site on Franklin Avenue and India Street is also engaging in a similar scramble.
“The whole point of this rezoning is to eliminate out of context buildings and maintain a height gap,” said CB1 member Ward Dennis, of the 444 Graham Avenue site.
Local elected officials also chimed in on Wednesday morning, issuing statements widely in support of the rezoning plans as a way to preserve the form and character of the neighborhood.
“As the inland has seen a great deal of out of scale development in recent years, this action hopes to preserve neighborhood character and scale by limiting the heights of new developments and ultimately prevent out of scale development,” Councilmember Diana Reyna expressed in a prepared statement. “This rezoning will also encourage positive and thoughtful development within the area.”
Similarly, Councilmember David Yassky “enthusiastically supports this long requested follow up zoning action to the 2005 rezoning of Greenpoint/Williamsburg, and believes that this contextual rezoning will, by introducing strict height limitations on new and existing buildings in the rezoning area, go a long way towards preserving the neighborhood character of Williamsburg and Greenpoint.”
The Greenpoint-Williamsburg Contextual Rezoning is an amendment to the 2005 Greenpoint-Williamsburg Waterfront Rezoning that includes an additional 175-block area in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg, and seeks to protect the existing character of residential areas east of the 2005 rezoning area.
The rezoning area contains residential blocks from Clay Street in the north to Scholes and Maujer Streets in the south. It is bounded on the west by the area rezoned by the 2005 Greenpoint-Williamsburg Waterfront Rezoning and on the east by the manufacturing areas in Eastern Greenpoint and Williamsburg. This area does not include property rezoned in 2005 or any area zoned for manufacturing.
The rezoning aims to preserve neighborhood character and scale by limiting the height of new development, to create opportunities and incentives for affordable housing through inclusionary zoning, and to support local retail corridors while protecting the residential character of nearby side streets.
The City Planning Commission review must be completed by June 20th, when it will be passed onto City Council for a final review, timing out at a maximum of 50 days.

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