City Planning Commission Passes Mott Creek Rezoning
By Miriam Rosenberg
Amanda Burden, chair of the City Planning Commission, recommended passage of the application at a planning review meeting on Monday after developers – in what some say was a last ditch effort to slow the down zoning plan – showed up at the August 10 public hearing and complained that the process was moving too quickly and that the down zoning move violated their right to develop the land.
During the last two weeks, the planning commission put things on hold after the testimony by the developers, a press event was held in Mott Creek by the City Council’s chair of Franchise and Rezoning committee and the Department of Buildings began an investigation in two specific areas of development in Mott Creek.
City Councilman Tony Avella (chair of the Franchise and Zoning committee) visited Mott Creek on August 18.
“The issue is bigger than this development,” said Avella, who first came to the area in September 2004. “The city does not believe in building moratoriums. I don’t see why not when they are needed. If ever there was a case to stop and see what is happening, this is it.”
He also questioned how one building on Beach 5th Street was allowed to reach all the way out to the waterfront.
“How they got a permit to do this is bizarre,” he said. “We need to get a handle on all this,” continued Avella. “We need to stop construction, straighten things out and let the rezoning go ahead. I’m not so sure that nothing illegal is going on … Block and lot number, whether intentional or inadvertently, [are mixed up]…. So much is going on here.”
The Queens Borough President’s office has caused confusion by giving duplicate block and lot numbers to developers resulting in violations meant for developers to be sent to residents.
“Using my block and lot numbers, I get all of his [developer Michael Stern and JDS Development] violations,” said Tracy Conroy, who along with her husband has received at least three violations in their names.
Commissioner Burden, who called Mott Creek a small environmentally sensitive area, made a site visit the week of August 15.
“I [saw the] one and two family size homes and I am concerned the new development, attached or semi-attached four story, would substantially alter the character of the Mott Creek area,” said Burden, who said it was clear “developers are racing to beat the clock.” Shelly Friedman, who represents five of the developers, spoke to The Wave about the acceleration of the rezoning. He said the City Planning claim that developers knew about the rezoning 15 months ago is false.
“They had not been properly appraised of the process,” said Friedman. “The only thing they knew about 15 months ago was the plan for up zoning [in the West Lawrence area].”
Friedman said that following the August 10 meeting, “it was established without further doubt that the down zoning was done in haste. If developers knew, they could have made the right business decision. “By that time, they spent money on property, architects, and engineers without a clue up zoning became down zoning.”
Friedman expects the developers he represents will continue to press for relief as the City Council takes up the discussion about “the wisdom and the appropriateness of the down zoning.”
Last week, the DOB began an audit of 30 buildings to be built on land blocks 15608 and 15609 in the Mott Creek area. “The investigation is ongoing,” said Jennifer Divner of the DOB on Wednesday afternoon. “We are performing audits of all the applications submitted.” Friedman did dispute any allegations of violations by his clients who include Michael Stern and JDS Development.
“For the clients I represent – I am convinced [there are no violations],” he told The Wave. “They have been audited by the Department of Buildings. All permits are in order. They’ve had their fair share of inspections. They have been cleared up and gone back to work. They don’t even pay a fine. It’s the way DOB corresponds with projects. I know of no citations beside usual stop work orders.”
Joel Schnur, who represents other developers, did not want to elaborate on City Planning’s actions.
“No comment,” said Schnur on Wednesday morning. “You have to call me back in a week. We’re still making assessments. There is a vote today. I know you have a deadline, but that is not my problem.”
The area – beginning at Beach 6th Street along Seagirt Boulevard, to the Nassau County line and the East Rockaway Inlet – currently a R5 zoning would divide into R3-1 and R4A zones and keep new homes consistent with ones in the neighborhood.
The Franchise and Zoning Committee of the City Council will take up the issue and make recommendations to the full council on September 7. The whole council is expected to vote on the rezoning issue on September 15, the final step in the process.