City Councilmember Mike Nelson convinced Community Board 13 to reject the Brighton Beach rezoning plan it once lobbied for – pushing instead for a plan that could turn the bungalow district into a firetrap.
“Councilman Nelson was one person and got this community board to overturn a [process] that took eight years,” said Brighton Beach resident Ida Sanoff.
There is currently no height limit for building in the bungalow district. Nelson argued that the city’s proposed rezoning for the area – R4A or Rwith a three-story height limit – would “devastate” bungalow owners seeking to expand their homes or sell their lots to developers for big bucks. He pushed for R6B zoning, which would allow buildings up to five stories tall.
In its 23 to nine vote (with two abstentions) to reject the rezoning plan’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application, the community board recommended that R6B be applied.
But city officials said that such zoning could turn the bungalow district into a labyrinth of “little towers” lacking access to air and light – and could put the neighborhood in danger of a different kind of “devastation.”
The Fire Department sent a letter to CB 13 explaining that fire trucks cannot navigate the bungalow district’s narrow lanes. To get down such streets, firefighters use portable ladders, which cannot reach building windows over three stories high.
“The moment you allow intense development here at a certain height, they can no longer guarantee safety,” said Winston Von Engel, deputy director of the Department of City Planning. “The Fire Department said they would not approve any building over 35 feet.”
“It is very disturbing to know that what the city councilman is recommending is a fire hazard,” said CB 13 member Pat O’Brien.
Nelson insisted that the City Council would approve zoning “in conformity with Fire Department requirements,” but then continued to call for the taller R6B zoning.
Apparently, the Fire Department’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Instead, the community board listened to Nelson and pro-development bungalow residents.
The board’s rejection of the ULURP could ultimately leave Brighton Beach without any downzoning at all.
Before the vote was taken, Von Engel advised board members to consider the message they wanted to send to city officials. Their rejection tells the city to nix the rezoning plan unless Nelson’s proposed taller zoning is implemented, Von Engel said.
Brighton Beach Neighborhood Association President Pat Singer, who supports the rezoning plan, is “appalled” by the board’s rejection, but remains optimistic that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, the City Planning Commission and the City Council will disregard CB 13’s vote and approve the rezoning plan.
“This is so tragic to me,” Singer said. “I’m hoping that the sensible minds that will be at the next level will say this is dumb.”
©2009 Community News Group
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