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Civic gurus reject Fort Greene tower, music school expansion

The revised proposal for 130 Saint Felix St.
Courtesy of FXCollaborative

Fort Greene civic gurus rejected a proposed 23-story mixed-use tower that would include more than 100 new housing units and an expansion of the Brooklyn Music School at 130 Saint Felix St., saying the new development was too large and didn’t have enough affordable housing.

“This doesn’t even belong here,” said Ernest Augustus, a member of Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee at a Wednesday virtual hearing. “This is massive, it impinges on the historic district.”

Manhattan-based developers Gotham Organization applied for a rezoning to allow them to build the 267-foot tall structure in the vacant lot right next to the iconic Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower. The proposed tower is just over half the height of its 512-foot Art Deco neighbor and would top out at 20 feet below the larger building’s shoulder.

The scheme, first unveiled in late 2019, came before the board a year ago for a prior application with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and LPC gave their nod of approval in August after Gotham and architects with FXCollaborative cut the height by 20 feet and moved the bulk back 40 feet from Saint Felix Street to be less imposing on the row of brownstones across the street.

They needed LPC’s approval to build in the Brooklyn Academy of Music Historic District, but now also need to go through the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to get the right zoning.

If they get their ULURP application approved, Gotham plans to break ground in the first quarter of 2022 and wrap by mid-2024.

The development would allow the expansion of the adjacent Brooklyn Music School on the building’s lower two floors and in the basement, and would host 120 new housing units above, some 36 of which would be below-market rate condos.

A dozen of those will target folks making 70-90 percent of the federally-set Area Median Income, which equates to a salary of between $58,653–116,348, depending on the size of the household. The remaining 24 will go for people making 100 percent of the AMI, or about $83,790-$129,276.

The below-market-rate units will be tagged to incomes ranging from 70-100 percent of the AMI.Screenshot

CB2 members said at the May 19 hearing they wanted to help out the music school, whose leaders said they were bursting at the seams in their current buildings, but that the new campus shouldn’t come at the cost of a predominantly-luxury apartment tower.

“I like the fact that we’re looking out for BAM [sic] and that we’re trying to help them out,” said Bill Flounoy. “The affordable housing truly is not affordable for our Brooklyn district.”

However, the affordable units overwhelmingly target lower incomes than the median household income for Community Board 2, which in 2018 was $110,230, according to figures by New York University’s Furman Center.

Another longtime member worried that the subway lines running beneath Saint Felix Street and adjacent Ashland Place would cause the street to not be able to hold the big new building, citing an incident in 1997 when a water main break caused the soil to shift and forced several residents to vacate their homes.

“They can’t give me enough substantiation that they’re going to build something like that when the block fell in with nothing like that,” said John Dew.

Gotham bigwig Bryan Kelly said he wouldn’t take those concerns lightly and noted that the developer will enter into an agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and that both the private company and the transit agency will send their engineers into the tunnels to study the loads and review the design of the building.

Prior to the committee’s vote, members of the public testified for more than an hour-and-a-half in favor or against the development.

One 11-year local urged the board to not turn their nose up at the project, which could offer longtime renters like him a shot at homeownership in a well-off area.

“What benefit does the no-action condition offer to the community,” asked Shaurav Datta. “Does it offer BMS exercising expanded influence on the cultural footprint of the district? No. Does it offer 36 new affordable homes with a path to homeownership? No. As an 11-year lifelong renter, that is something that is something I am really excited by but we’re not going to get any of that in the no-action option.”

Nevertheless, the committee voted nine in favor, three against to recommend the city reject the ULURP application. CB2 will hold another vote at an upcoming full board or executive committee meeting to issue their advisory recommendation before the proposal heads to Borough President Eric Adams’s office for another advisory vote.

The beep will hold his virtual hearing on the project on Wednesday, June 2, at 6 pm, a spokeswoman said.

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