Civic gurus pan W’Terrace rezoning proposal

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The proposed development the rezoning would allow.
Renderings by FXcollaborative

Windsor Terrace civic gurus rejected a developer’s scheme to demolish a local church and build a 13-story mixed-use tower in its place, with residents claiming the proposed edifice is simply too big for the neighborhood. 

“We heard very clearly many of the community members who came to the public hearing, height was a huge issue for them,” said John Fontillas, chairman of Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee. 

Members of Community Board 7 voted 30-2 at a meeting on Feb. 19 to disapprove JEMB Realty’s application to rezone land surrounding the International Baptist Church on Coney Island Avenue near Ocean Parkway as R8-A, which it requires to tear down the squat brick house of worship and construct the 145-foot-tall tower.

The new building would contain 278 units, including 70 so-called “affordable” units, with rents ranging between $856 for a studio and $1,504 for a three-bedroom, in addition to 80 parking spots. 

Of those 36 would be reserved for parishioners attending service at a new International Baptist Church planned for inclusion inside the new development, which would also feature a community space, school, and medical offices. 

Many locals at the meeting on Wednesday spoke in favor of some form of residential development at the site, but most expressed serious concerns over the project’s size, which one man said was out of scale compared to surrounding buildings.

“The scope and the breadth of this is really the thing that I bring into question,” said Mark Duffin, an Ocean Parkway resident. “If they came and were telling us ‘we want to put in eight-story housing here,’ I think a lot of people might not be so up in arms.” 

Board members offered to support of a more modest zoning request, such as an R7-A designation, which would allow the developer to erect a residential building of about eight stories in height, and featuring significantly less housing units. 

However, an attorney for the developer, Zachary Bernstein, told community members at a preliminary hearing on Jan. 30 that if his client’s rezoning application was unsuccessful, the firm would instead build a 17-story hotel at the site, in a project that would require no rezoning, and which the community would have little opportunity to influence. 

A spokesman for the developers said they would prefer the neighborhood to remain residential, and pointed out the building is designed to move most of the bulkier parts of the building to the widest streets it falls on. 

“We strongly believe this is a residential neighborhood and should remain so,” said Thiago Viana. “The design was carefully planned to shift the bulk of the building to Ocean Parkway and Machate Circle, all while transitioning to an 11 story building on Caton Place and Coney Island Avenue.” 

Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D–Windsor Terrace) blasted the developers at the meeting Wednesday, accusing executives at JEMB of wielding the hotel as a threat in an effort to ram through its residential development. 

“The one thing I don’t like when we’re dealing with developers is to be coerced and threatened. An 18-story hotel is a threat, it’s coercive, and it is not appropriate,” Carroll said. “To say we will put this completely out of place commercial building on a quiet residential block is not being a good neighbor.” 

The community board’s vote on JEMB Realty’s zoning application is purely advisory, and Council will decided on whether to approve the rezoning  later this year, when Councilman Brad Lander (D–Windsor Terrace) will wield a decisive vote as the legislator whose district encompasses the property in question.