These notes and comments were prepared by CoWNA Land Use committee chairperson Norman Cox:
This presentation was characterized as informational since the rezoning has not yet been certified. Formal public review process has not yet started. It is hoped that certification will be granted by 1 June 2009. It is important to note that after certification, City Planning will resist changes to the proposal.
The presentation started with an explanation of how the boundary of the study area was determined. The study area encompasses all of Carroll Gardens and the Columbia Waterfront area. It contains only the existing R6 and commercial zones; the study area includes no manufacturing zones.
We were shown maps of the existing zoning, existing uses and density represented by floor area ratio (FAR). The review of the existing conditions in the study area included photos of typical buildings in the area as well as photos of buildings that are considered out-of-context. The out-of-context buildings were presented as examples of the kind of undesirable development that the rezoning proposal is designed to prevent.
The rezoning proposal was characterized as a ‘preservation’ plan with the goal being to preserve the essential character of the neighborhoods while allowing some room for development. There are two main features of the plan: 1) change all current R6 zones to ‘contextual’ zones (R6A, R6B, R7A) and 2) adjust the commercial zones to reduce the risk of commercial uses spreading up the side streets and/or taking over residential buildings.
The proposal affects the Waterfront district as follows:
1) The Columbia Waterfront residential zones, which are R6 (FAR 2.43), will become R6B, but along Columbia Street from Degraw to Woodhull would be zoned R6A. R6B allows for a 2.0 maximum FAR, R6A allows for a 3.0 FAR. City Planning’s rationale for this up zoning is that they would like to promote Columbia Street as a commercial strip and they believe that the extra FAR is necessary so that a developer who provide commercial space still has enough floor area left to create a profitable residential building.
2) The commercial zone will be changed from C2-1 to C2-4 to allow expanded list of allowable uses. Many of the additional uses already exist, and this change would basically legalize them.
3) The east side of Tiffany Pl. would be rezoned R7A which reflects the large scale of the existing buildings there. The west side of the street would be R6A.
The rezoning to R6A or R6B has the following benefits:
1) Buildings will have a fixed height limit: for R6A it is 60’ at the street then 70’ after a 15’ setback. For R6B the maximum heights would be 40’ at the street then 50’ after a 15’ setback.
2) The ability to use the higher FAR of a community facility to increase the total area of a building will be eliminated.
We have a number of reservations about the proposed R6A zoning along Columbia Street:
1) The demand for commercial space along Columbia Street is not great; there is a relatively small population living within the adjacent blocks, and the lack of crossings at the BQE is a disincentive to crossing over from Carroll Gardens. We are not confident that a lot of additional commercial space could be absorbed.
2) There is a risk that developers would devote ground floor space to parking rather than commercial space, which would increase the height of the building and eliminate active use of the ground floor.
3) Many of the buildings along Columbia Street are in fair to poor condition and may be torn down to make way for larger developments (east side at the corner of Degraw).
4) There are potential development sites in the manufacturing zones along Columbia (west side between Degraw & Sackett, at the corner of Summit, east side at Woodhull), which would be attractive to developers willing to pursue private rezonings. Such private rezonings would be to R6A to match the adjacent zone.
5) For buildings developed on larger lots, the resulting buildings may be out of scale: City Planning’s own Zoning Handbook states that R6A buildings “typically produce…six or seven story apartment buildings”.
Please provide comments as quickly as possible so that we may forward them to City Planning Staff as they conclude the study and prepare for certification.