Boerum Hill gets its downzone

Boerum Hill gets its downzone
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Boerum Hill will remain a “small neighborhood” with building heights capped to prevent “out-of-scale” development under a rezoning plan approved unanimously by the City Council on Wednesday.

Residents cheered the vote to limit building heights in a 31-block area, a move that will reign in new development in an area dominated by Greek revival and Italianate brownstones.

“We’re thrilled to preserve the low-rise character and tree-lined streets that make our neighborhood,” said Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association. “People move here to have a quality of life that stresses backyards and brownstone stoops.”

The rezoning sets limits on blocks bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Warren Street, Court Street and Fourth Avenue. Buildings on side streets now have a maximum height of 50 feet, but commercial structures can rise to 70 feet.

Kolins said that he hopes the rezoning will encourage more commercial activity and development of vacant lots on Third Avenue.

But some locals say the rezoning had some unintended consequences.

Developer Frank DeFalco, who owns The Invisible Dog three-story gallery on Bergen Street, said the change ruined his plans to build another floor for artist living quarters. A provision in the rezoning limits the height of community facilities on Bergen Street from Smith to Court streets.

“We believe the rezoning was completely well-intentioned, but it will stifle places like The Invisible Dog,” DeFalco said. “We’re trying to build a vibrant arts community and the only way that’s going to happen is if we have room for growth in the future.”

Two years ago, the specter of new developments — such as the just-opened 360 Smith condo in Carroll Gardens and the Atlantic Yards project — galvanized residents to push for the zoning change.

Other brownstone neighborhoods including Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Park Slope, and Carroll Gardens already had similar height restrictions.

“We were the last neighborhood to do this — we were the orphaned blocks,” Kolins said. “But it’s worth it to everyone to keep Boerum Hill feeling like a small neighborhood.”