Friday, August 24, 2007

Carroll Gardens Town Hall Zoning Meeting

Fortunately, last night's meeting has been amply documented . . . I was not looking forward to transcribing three pages of scribbled notes. Miraculously, the Gowanus Lounge found the time, sources, and somehow, the inclination to post about this meeting FROM HAWAII. Mr. Guskind provides a rundown that covers the gist of the meeting, ostensibly from sources at CORD, which has also blogged about last night's meeting and was out in force. Curbed also has a post authored by Lost City.

It was a packed house last night, and a number of issues were raised.

The points that I wanted to get out at the meeting was to pursue a three track process:

1) Pursue down-zoning of Carroll gardens to R6B, with a 50' height limit.
2) Explore landmarking at the same time, to protect the character of the neighborhood. Landmarking overlays may end up taking different shape than the overall zoning area. i.e., pockets of the neighborhood may end up being landmarked, other parts not. But we should get the ball rolling.
3) And most urgent in my view, pursuing a technical determination from DOB that the side streets in Carroll Gardens, specifically including the "Place" streets: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Place, are not "wide streets" for city planning purposes. "Wide Streets" allow greater building rights than a typical street, and this is a justification for building higher at, e.g., 360 Smith Street.

Two particular bits of information stood out dramatically for me from last night's meeting:

First, the ILA site located at 340 Court Street has been sold for what I believe was an astonishing $24MM. The site is enormous - go to Google maps and use the satellite view to get a sense of the parcel size, which stretches from Union to Sackett and halfway up the block from Court towards Clinton. The jaw dropping news was under the current zoning, a builder could go up to 21 stories on this site. That makes 360 Smith look like a grass hut in comparison.

Second, Rita Miller from CORD stated that both Bill de Blasio's office and Joan Millman's office had told CORD that a moratorium would basically be illegal, which was corroborated by Bill and Joan. She then stated that Amanda Burden had sent a letter to CORD saying that a moratorium WAS possible, which sent a stir through the crowd. This caused some backpedaling by de Blasio, and a good deal of consternation in the crowd. I was stunned myself. Unfortunately, the letter from Amanda Burden, which is available in full at the CORD website, does not actually say that.

The relevant quote is here:
"Please note that any moratorium, whether temporary or permanent, is required by law to go through the Uniform Land Use Public Review Process, as well as an environmental review."
I'll have to do some research on this, but my understanding is that you can't simply put a moratorium on building that conforms to the lawful zoning of a given parcel, let alone an entire neighborhood. I don't wish to rain on any one's parade, but I believe that a judge would slap that down in short order as an arbitrary violation of property rights. I am an attorney, though I have not practiced real estate law, so before I can say that my belief is correct, I'll have to do some research.

Anyway, Ms. Miller's presentation was nonetheless impassioned and impressive. At the very least, we will get a definitive answer as to the legality of a building moratorium.

There was a ton more from last night, including a few tangential references to the once and future F-Express, but I'll have to do another post to cover it all.

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