BP Adams rejects proposed 18-story Atlantic Avenue rezoning

The proposed development at 840 Atlantic Avenue.
Atlantic Vanderbilt Holdings

Borough President Eric Adams gave the thumbs down to a proposed 18-story residential building on the site of a drive-thru McDonalds at Atlantic and Vanderbilt avenues, citing the project’s height and density.

The project would contain roughly 300 apartments, and around 95 of them would be designated below-market-rate, while the ground floor space would be slated for a dance studio. 

Local community board members in March blasted the project for the potential to add density to the surrounding neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, and Crown Heights, while sparking a conversation over the vision for the long-debated M-Crown Rezoning, and whether it will bring about enough affordable housing.

While representatives for the developer behind the project, Simon Duschinsky of the Rabsky Group, has argued for a higher density in order to create more housing, members of Community Board 8 have been reluctant to work outside of their vision for the M-Crown rezoning, which seeks to up-zone the industrial swath of Crown Heights and Prospect Heights while preserving jobs in the area. The board has voted to withhold its advisory support of the proposal until it is updated to reflect its vision for the area. 

Their rezoning vision has the backing of Borough President Adams and local Councilmember Laurie Cumbo. In a letter announcing his advisory disapproval of thef rezoning, Adams cited concerns about the project’s density. 

“Borough President Adams generally supports the applicant’s proposal to increase density along wide commercial streets in the M-Crown district,” the letter says. “However, he acknowledges that the project represents a large jump in density from what is permitted in the underlying district.” 

The development site is currently a McDonald’s with a surface-level parking lot and drive-thru, at the corner of two exceptionally wide streets, and across the street from parts of the Pacific Park megadevelopment. Several other parcels along largely undeveloped Atlantic Avenue are seeking rezonings to allow for residential development. Many observers expected that whatever decision is ultimately made on the Atlantic-Vanderbilt site will become a model for those developments. 

Adams’ ruling also includes recommendations that the project be limited to 145 feet, and commit to a deeper level of affordability under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program than currently proposed. 

While Adams’ opinion is simply advisory, he is considered a front-runner in last month’s mayoral race, with absentee ballots being tabulated this month — which would give him significant authority over decisions on rezonings across the Five Boroughs.   

Cumbo, as the city council member for that area, has more influence over the proposal. Her office has signaled she will support the community board’s decision as well. 

Reps for the developer have argued that the community board’s recommended zoning does not do enough to create affordable housing as the city works to combat a brutal housing crisis, and that the board is squandering the opportunity to develop denser housing along two wide commercial strips, just minutes away from the boroughs biggest transit hub at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center. 

“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,” said land use attorney Ben Stark during a Community Board 8 meeting in May. “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.”