Updated proposal for Atlantic Avenue rezoning still raises questions

The proposed development at 840 Atlantic Avenue.
Atlantic Vanderbilt Holdings

Local Prospect Heights residents are still questioning a developers plan to redevelop a suburban-style McDonalds at the corner of Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues, saying they want to make sure the building will conform with their vision for an in-the-works neighborhood upzoning.

Developer Atlantic-Vanderbilt Holdings presented an alternative version of the residential tower to community members on May 6, which proposed reducing the density of the building along Atlantic Avenue. 

“We have heard the concerns of this community regarding density, regarding the projects that are coming behind us,” said Ben Stark, a representative for Atlantic-Vanderbilt.

The updated proposal specifically pitches reducing the development’s density alongside a portion of the Atlantic Avenue side to a Floor Area Ratio — a measurement by which density is measured — to 7.2, with a height limit of 145 feet. Stark said this could be used to set a precedent for developments along the half-mile stretch of Atlantic Avenue where a number of new developments are in the works. The site also sits across the street from the Pacific Park Megadevelopment, where a 300-foot tall residential tower is in the works on the opposite corner. 

“There is this idea that what happens with us will set the stage for what follows, and in fact we agree with that,” Stark said. 

The original proposal sought to erect an 18-story building with 316 apartments on the site but received pushback over density concerns. 

Some community board members signaled that they were supportive of the updated proposal — but not yet sold enough to vote for its approval. The board’s land use committee voted 14-2 to withhold support from the project at 840 Atlantic Avenue. The proposal will now go before the full community board for its advisory vote. 

“Thank you for listening and actually hearing what we’ve been saying,” said Community Board 8 chair Ethel Tyus. 

The lot is currently home to a suburban-style drive through McDonalds.Google

At issue is the proposed neighborhood-wide M-Crown rezoning, an upzoning that seeks to allow residential development along the industrial corridor of Crown Heights and Prospect Heights while preserving living wage jobs in the area, with the ultimate goal of creating affordable housing units within walking distance of employment. 

Atlantic-Vanderbilt’s updated proposal brings the Atlantic Avenue side of the building to just .2 Floor Area Ratio points within the stated goal of the M-Crown, which would allow for a maximum density of 7 on the avenue, but also asks for an additional 1 point of density than the tenets of M-Crown currently allow for on the corner of Atlantic and Vanderbilt. 

Community board members, however, argued that too much work has been put into the vision for the neighborhood rezoning to allow every developer that comes before them to work outside the boundaries of it. 

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the neighborhood rezoning,” said Gib Veconi. “We have a lot of other developers waiting in the wings, each one of them is going to have good reasons why their project should have some additional FAR above what the community board and the elected officials have specified.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time building community support for a residential upzoning in Brooklyn, and that is not something many community boards do, and we don’t want to lose it,” Veconi added. 

Stark, for his part, accused board members of splitting hairs, and countered that the location of the development site — just ten minutes from the borough’s biggest transit hub — makes it an ideal spot for additional density, and for the roughly 95 units of affordable housing that will come along with it.

“I’m going to remind everyone that in the East New York rezoning, about 45 minutes east of here, they have 7.2 Floor Area Ratio,” Stark said. “I’m trying to wrap my head around why we’re permitting affordable housing capacity in area where we don’t really have much opportunity, and yet we are hand-wringing over a single FAR a 10 minute walk from a train station where people can access thousands upon thousands of jobs — I’m sorry, I think we’re splitting hairs when we’re shovel-ready, we’re ready to build some housing.” 

With the community board’s land use committee voting to withhold support, a representative for Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, who has the final say on land use proposals in the district, said the majority leader would follow the community board’s guidance in casting her vote, and would support a proposal that complies with tenets of M-Crown as closely as possible.

“The majority leader is still steadfast the tenets of the 2018 letter to city planning and is trying to make sure her views mirror what the community board wants,” said Cumbo staffer Lucien Allen. 

While the developer has not yet calculated how many fewer units will be in the reduced-density version of its proposal, several speakers at the meeting objected to reducing the density, arguing the need for affordable and market-rate housing was too great.

“If we start talking about reducing densities, you’re likely going to get to a situation where there are less affordable units, less market-rate units, less housing,” said Will Thomas of the pro-development group Open New York. “In this environment we need every bit of affordable housing we can muster. The 95 below market units that this rezoning offers strikes me as a good place to start.”