CB10 to city: Zoning proposal too dense for public review

You shouldn’t need a Ph.D. or a law degree to do your civic duty, say Bay Ridge community leaders.

Members of Community Board 10 fear that a controversial plan to relax zoning restrictions in mid- and high-density portions of the city will be all but indecipherable when it comes before them for review later this year.

The plan — which aims to encourage affordable and senior housing by letting developers build taller buildings in exchange for lower rents through a text amendment to the zoning law — has to go before every community board in the city for public review before it can be adopted. And to lay the groundwork, the city has released a draft impact study of the proposal from the Department of City Planning, which city officials presented to CB10 last week.

But what should have been an easily digestible slide show broadly outlining the plan turned out to be an abstruse, 23-page PowerPoint presentation — plus a 14-page supplement detailing the areas of Bay Ridge affected — that was too dense for some board members to swallow — and now they’re worried the finalized proposal will end up being an impenetrable mass of legalese.

“If we think that the details of this PowerPoint are a little difficult to understand, that [text amendment] is going to be really daunting,” said CB10 zoning committee chairwoman Ann Falutico, an architect who said some of the PowerPoint mystified even her. “I do not completely understand everything that is in the presentation.”

That’s a problem, because later this year the board will have to render an opinion on the actual text amendment, which will likely be just as wonky as it sounds, a committee member said.

“You’re not going to read this like a novel or a magazine,” attorney Steve Harrison told fellow board members. “This is gonna be a slog trying to read this.”

Folks who sit on community boards have to do some reading and critical thinking — that’s part of the gig — but the course load is typically much lighter, he said.

“In the past, they’d strike two lines and add 15 words,” said Harrison. “We’d look at it, and you could understand it right off the bat.”

The new proposal could fundamentally change neighborhoods across the city, because allowing taller buildings in areas with a stable housing stock might encourage developers to tear down historic buildings and replace them with modern monstrosities, critics say.

The city argues the plan will not spur demolition but rather be a boon to Brooklyn seniors, but in the face of massive push-back after the initial announcement, the city downsized its plan slightly.

The city is listening to criticism and continues to make adjustments, a spokesman from city planning said. Initially, it planned to release the text amendment and initiate the public review process over the summer, but community boards traditionally don’t meet in July and August, and initiating the review would have triggered a 60-day countdown for board members to render a decision or forfeit the opportunity — meaning they’d have to put off vacations and other summer activities to decode a potentially snooze-inducing zoning document. The city is holding off until the summer is over, but community board members will still only have 60 days to digest the proposal once it is released, the spokesman said.

The city also sent city planners to meet with most of the city’s 59 community boards after residents complained in the springtime that they couldn’t make heads or tails of the impact study and PowerPoint, the spokesman said. But the latter move fell flat in Bay Ridge, where the emissary, Richard Jacobs, left the impression he wasn’t quite up to speed.

“Richard — who I really like, and I think he’s very competent — I think that he wasn’t quite sure himself what he was saying,” Harrison said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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