2005-09-09 / Community

Charges Fly From Both Sides At Mott Creek Rezoning Hearing

By Miriam Rosenberg Contributing Editor

  • The City Council’s subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, has voted unanimously to approve the application for down zoning the Mott Creek area in Far Rockaway.
  • At Wednesday’s public hearing, residents and dev elopers sat on opposite sides of the room and threw contentious charges at each other. Residents, who believe that the new construction is too dense for their community, claimed the developers value money over safety, while the developers, most of whom are Orthodox Jews, said the true motive behind the rezoning lies in the issues of racism and anti-Semitism. Matt Probkevitz, of EquiShares Real Estate (and a local resident) was one of the developers who testified at the hearing.

    “[The down zoning] is based on racism. You are not getting an accurate picture,” Probkevitz told committee chair Tony Avella. “You got duped.”

    Probkevitz claimed that some community residents told him, “Don’t sell until you speak with us first” and made references that blacks and Jews could not move into the area.

    Residents denied any prejudice.

    “We do not discriminate against anyone,” said José Velez.

    Jacqueline Sabade read a letter written by a neighbor, Nathan Cohen, into the record.

    Cohen and his family are orthodox Jews who have lived in the area for two years. In a recent letter to The Wave, he called the construction “uncontrolled development“ and said attempts to label opposition to the developments as anti-Semitic are “deeply and personally offensive. “My neighbors are good people, and like myself are opposed to [over development].”

    Sheila Hershman, who spoke after Cohen’s letter was read, seemed caught off guard by the letter’s contents.

    “It may not be…but it appears to be discrimination by being put on the fast track,” said Hershman.

    Adam Rubin, a developer with EquiShares, pointed to several discrepancies about the down zoning proposal.

    “John Young [of the Department of City Planning] testified that it was important to keep the context of the single, two-family homes; yet between Beach 9 Street and Beach 6 Street there is an apartment building,” said Rubin, referring to the four-building senior citizen’s housing “Roy Reuter Houses.”

    Rubin called it “a glaring omission” that Roy Reuther Houses was left out of the city’s report on the area.

    What concerns the residents about the developing, as Susan Wagner said, is “The increase in density. It’s frightening. We’re worried about safety, access, emergency vehicles and traffic.”

    Rubin also said that developers “offered to let the city do a traffic study” and “give land if necessary” to address any problems.

    Avella, who has been working to help Mott Creek residents for a year had the final say.

    “In my opinion this is the worse example of developers trying to beat the clock before rezoning goes into effect,” said Avella. “There have been stop work orders issued, a lot of illegal activity going on, pilings put in without permits….” While Avella did acknowledge there were swastikas found on a developer’s construction fence, he did not believe that anti-Semitism is the reason for the rezoning request.

    “Everybody wants the police to investigate and when they are caught, they should have the book thrown at them,” said an angry Avella. “It does not represent both communities.” Avella also echoed residents’ feelings about their community.

    “Mott Creek is a quiet, small section of one family bungalows,” he said. “It would be a disgrace to the city if it looked the other way and allowed it to disappear.” The application to downzone was supported by Community Board 14, Borough President Helen Marshall and the Department of City Planning.

    The Mott Creek rezoning – from an R5 to R3X and R4A – would run from Beach 3rd to Beach 6th Streets and insure future developments are consistent with the character of the neighborhood.

    Also proposed is down zoning between Beach 6th and Beach 9th Streets bounded by Seagirt Boulevard and Seagirt Avenue and up zoning in the West Lawrence Area.

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