City: Ridge rezone plum for seniors, not developers

Going retro: City planner Howard Slatkin explains how new regulations would yield buildings whose layouts that are more similar to pre-war buildings than projects built under existing zoning laws.
Photo by Zach Williams

If you build it, they will stay.

A citywide rezoning proposal will make it easier for low-income seniors to stay in Brooklyn without igniting a development boom that preservationists fear will rock Bay Ridge, according to the Department of City Planning.

The plan would allow larger buildings in the neighborhood’s medium-density zones — the Third through Fifth avenue corridors, the southern waterfront, and a portion of Ridge Boulevard. In most affected areas, developers could build five feet higher as of right, or add 15 feet on buildings that are 90 percent affordable senior housing.

Preservationists say allowing larger buildings prompts developers to demolish structures that lend the neighborhood flair, but city officials maintain there will be no disruptive gold rush, because senior housing isn’t a money-maker.

“That’s not why people tear down buildings — to create affordable and senior housing,” said Department of City Planning director Carl Weisbrod. “It’s not profitable. One of our goals is to make our neighborhoods economically diverse — to ensure that when market-rate housing comes in, people who have been living there a long time can continue to live there.”

Market forces nudging rents up are pushing seniors out of the city, but the city’s proposal will help prevent senior displacement, according to a senior advocacy group.

“Without the proposed changes from the Department of City Planning, it is very hard to find sites in communities like Bay Ridge that are large enough to support senior housing and help our seniors stay in the community,” said Claire Hilger of Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens.

Officials aren’t expecting a set number of new affordable senior units, because it is ultimately up to developers to run with zoning changes and create housing — but the city doesn’t expect the change to precipitate a storm of development, one official said.

“It’s really difficult to gauge, because these are the things that make [affordable housing] easier and more possible,” said city planner Howard Slatkin. “To turn it into a number — we didn’t just want to make a number up. It’s really an incremental improvement.”

The plan also calls for additional height in areas marked for the Inclusionary Housing Program — a city program that lets luxury developers build bigger in exchange for so-called “permanently affordable” units. But Bay Ridge is not zoned for inclusionary housing, so market-rate builders stand to gain very little from that proposal, Slatkin said.

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

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