City Planning hears Hurst rezone arguments

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Several dozen homeowners and developers showed up at the Department of City Planning offices in Lower Manhattan Wednesday to plead their cases for and against a proposal to rezone a portion of Bensonhurst.

Some residents of the neighborhood told commissioners that the onslaught of condominium development was destroying the character of Bensonhurst, notable for its expanse of one- and two-family homes.

Developers, meanwhile, claimed that down-zoning would alienate private homeowners interested in extending their own abodes. They also charged that the 120-block zoning proposal would limit the number of “affordable” homes they could build in the neighborhood.

When one of the planning commissioners, Irwin Cantor, asked what a developer with the group Westside Condos meant when he said “affordable,” the developer reluctantly revealed details for a project slated for 65th Street at Avenue O. The cost of the housing, he said, would rise as high as $600 per square foot, a price that could add up to more than $600,000 per unit.

“As politically charged as the Bay Ridge zoning was, in Bensonhurst, if they don’t get this figured out — well, let’s just say it’s a very big deal,” said Jerry Kassar, chairman of the Kings County Conservative Party, who attended the hearing.

The April 27 hearing marked the third step in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a process that requires hearings before and recommendations by CB11, Borough President Marty Marko- witz, the City Planning Commission and the City Council. The planning commission must make its own recommendation by June 14, although it is likely to come much sooner. The community board and Markowitz have both recommended its passage.

If approved, the plan would rezone an area bounded by Bay Parkway and 61st Street to the north, McDonald Avenue to the east, Avenue U to the south and Stillwell Avenue to the west. The proposal seeks to establish height limits where low-rise housing predominates while eliminating the potential for uncharacte­ristically large medical storefronts and buildings designed for mixed commercial and residential use.

While commercial corridors along portions of Bay Parkway, Kings Highway, Highlawn Avenue and avenues O and T would flourish, three quarters of the plan would safeguard detached and semi-detached housing by limiting new development to 35 feet and under.

Some complain that the boundaries leave most of Bensonhurst unprotected. West of Bay Parkway, for instance, nine avenues, including New Utrecht Avenue, are ignored.

A planner for the Department of City Planning explained that had the proposal included those blocks — more than 150, in fact — inspecting and drafting new zoning maps would have taken twice as long. Once this proposal is passed into law, City Planning’s Kristin Guild said, planners would return to Bensonhurst to complete the project.

Louis Powsner, a longtime activist in Bensonhurst who currently lives on a section of Avenue P included in the rezoning plan, described how over the past several years developers swooped in and bought up houses surrounding his own. With each passing year, he said, another homeowner surrendered to development groups with deep pockets. In the process, he said, the mushrooming number of condominiums took a toll on his neighborhood.

“The goose that laid the golden egg is being cooked,” he said, referring to how developers had chipped away at the unique character of the neighborhood.

Bensonhurst Assemblyman William Colton said that besides several details, he generally supports the plan, especially if City Planning officials make good on their commitment to re-evaluate the rest of Bensonhurst.

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