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Downzone ain’t so ‘Grand’

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Williamsburg residents are complaining that a city proposal to limit high-rise development along Grand Street is too little, too late.

The Department of City Planning says the downzoning plan would “preserve the scale of the neighborhood and reflect Grand Street’s retail and residential feel,” according to a spokeswoman.

But the low-rise feel on Grand Street, which was not protected in the 2005 rezoning that brought about the ongoing building boom on Williamsburg’s waterfront, may be lost long before the city proposal makes it through the eight-month public-review process, critics said.

“The city was wrong to have left this area out of the rezoning,” said Community Board 1 Land Use Committee Chairman Ward Dennis.

The situation on Grand Street recalls the ongoing conflict over the notorious “finger building,” a Robert Scarano-designed residential tower on North Eighth Street that was grandfathered in under old zoning rules because it got its foundation in the ground before the new zoning went into effect.

Unless the Grand Street zoning change quickly makes it through the city’s land use review process, such tall buildings could start cropping up, said Phil DePaolo of the New York Community Council, a zoning watchdog.

“Developers are going get their foundations in, and they’ll be protected when the change does go through,” DePaolo said. “It’ll be a nightmare.”

Williamsburg’s development mavens are all keeping an eye on the corner of Grand Street and Driggs Avenue, where architect Karl Fischer has designed a 16-story building. But Fischer may have to go back to the drawing board if the zoning change goes through.

“That project is just one example of what could happen if we don’t get the rezoning done in a hurry,” said CB1 member Evan Thies.

But Ken Fisher — a lawyer and former City Councilman who is representing the developer — said that rushing the downzoning might set precedents that lead to worse things than tall towers.

“Rezonings that are geared against a single project are never a good idea,” said Fisher.

“We need to be thoughtful about the impact that rezoning has on sustainability. … Height is not the only quality of the building that should be considered.”

The proposed rezoning would limit the height of buildings in the area to 50 feet.

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Reader Feedback

Ee cruz from billyburg says:
7/10/08 as you can see, mr. Fisher knew what he was talking about.
July 10, 2008, 11:44 pm

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