Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Fort Greene/Clinton Hill rezoning, 80-foot height limits, and Atlantic Yards

What's wrong with this picture, from the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which shows projected views from the south side of Dean Street between Sixth and Carlton Avenues? Nothing, according to the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESDC) Atlantic Yards review.

However, a proposed city rezoning of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, adjacent to Prospect Heights and to the northeast corner of the Atlantic Yards site, proposes 80-foot height limits.

This comes in reaction to out-of-scale buildings of 11 to 13 stories that themselves represent far less dramatic change than that proposed in Atlantic Yards, with a 272-foot building (Building 15, at far left above) next to low-rise residential buildings at the northeast corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue and far taller buildings adjacent and nearby.

At right: what the Department of City Planning considers out of scale. Note the close-in perspective; had the rendering at top been produced from the same perspective, the tall buildings would exceed the frame.

ESDC defense

In Chapter 16 of the FEIS, Neighborhood Character, the ESDC states:
The project site, as it now stands, does not contain any of the community character that defines the surrounding neighborhoods. The change in character on the project site would not alter the basic character of the surrounding neighborhoods, whose defining elements are located at some distance from the project site and are protected by zoning and historic district designations.

(Note that the low-rise buildings in the top photo are part of the State/National Register-eligible Swedish Baptist Church/Dean Street historic district. The northern "finger" of the existing (state) and proposed (city) historic district, on the west side of Carlton between Dean and Pacific streets, would be directly opposite the Atlantic Yards project at its north and east edges. Map from the Municipal Art Society.)

However, the proposed project would affect the character of those areas immediately surrounding the site. The greatest change would occur on Dean Street between Flatbush and Vanderbilt Avenues, which forms the southern border of the project site and is at the northern edge of Prospect Heights. The character of Dean Street would change from a nondescript, but quiet, mixed-use former industrial street to an active street with a mix of uses. Because Dean Street does not possess the attributes and character of the stable residential districts more readily identifiable within the Prospect Heights neighborhood to the south, this change would not affect the historic residential areas of Prospect Heights, and it would create a high-density, urban, largely residential character on Dean Street.

What's the context?

For Atlantic Yards, the state review focuses on a larger context, suggesting:
Although the proposed development would be at a density that is new to the area, the density and land uses of Phase I would be compatible with and serve as the southern gateway to Downtown Brooklyn. The Phase II development, virtually entirely residential, would be at a scale greater than, but comparable to, the high-rise residential development in the Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area (ATURA), north of Atlantic Avenue.

However, the most-recent residential development in ATURA is low-rise and mid-rise, not the somewhat anomalous Atlantic Terminal 4B, the tallest building in the city public housing stock, which nonetheless would contain less square footage than any of the 16 Atlantic Yards towers.

Looking at Fort Greene/Clinton Hill

The Department of City Planning's (DCP) proposed rezoning of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill takes a more cautious approach, observing:
Under the current R6 zoning, construction of tall apartment buildings without a height limitation is permitted and has resulted in buildings that are inconsistent with the typical brownstone character of the neighborhood and historic districts. As market demand for housing within Fort Greene and Clinton Hill has increased, a number of out-of-scale, 11- to 13-story tower developments are proposed or have been constructed that are inconsistent with the low-rise, row house neighborhood character.

(Examples from DCP above, on Greene at Carlton avenues, and below, between Myrtle and Park avenues.)

The proposed contextual zoning districts -- R5B, R6B, R6A, R7A -- would protect and preserve the predominantly brownstone character of the neighborhood's residential core and provide opportunities for apartment house construction and incentives for affordable housing on Myrtle Avenue, Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue within the rezoning area.

DCP notes that Atlantic Avenue, located at the southern boundary of the rezoning area and of Community District 2, now has low-rise retail stores and automotive uses and is zoned for "light- manufacturing, commercial, and limited community facility uses," with a fairly restrictive limit on size. The rezoning of Atlantic Avenue begins at Vanderbilt Avenue; to the west is already existing construction--low-rise to high-rise--within ATURA.

Proposed: 80-foot height limit

New but hardly dramatic height limits are proposed:
An R7A district is proposed for the Myrtle Avenue, Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue corridors. The related zoning text amendment to permit an Inclusionary Housing bonus in the proposed R7A district creates incentives for the development and preservation of affordable housing. Developments in this district would have a maximum base FAR of 3.45, which could be increased up to 4.6 with the provision of affordable housing. The R7A contextual height limits, including a maximum base height before setback of 65 feet and a maximum total height of 80 feet would apply to all new development.

As noted in the map at right, the blocks proposed for Atlantic Yards, below Atlantic Avenue between Vanderbilt and Fourth Avenue, are mainly zoned for manufacturing. (They are also partly within ATURA.)

Had the city rezoned those blocks, as it had done in spot rezonings, such as the conversion of a Daily News printing plant into the Newswalk condos between Pacific and Dean street in the "tooth" cut out of the Atlantic Yards footprint, what might the height and bulk limits have been?

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