Context matters: Pol blasts builder, officials for pushing megadevelopment too big for his district

Inconspicuous construction: Builder of massive 80 Flatbush project tweaks one tower’s look to better fit nabe
Alloy Development/Luxigon

The builder proposing a controversial megadevelopment at the edge of Boerum Hill must take its plans back to the drawing board and come up with a solution that better blends the area’s low-rise Brownstones with their neighboring high-rises Downtown, the councilman whose district would include the 80 Flatbush complex said Tuesday in his first public comments about the scheme.

Councilman Stephen Levin (D–Boerum Hill) blasted Dumbo-based Alloy Development and city officials for ignoring the current zoning of the site bounded by Flatbush and Third avenues and State and Schermerhorn streets in conceiving of the five-building project, which would include 74- and 38-story towers with some 900 apartments as well as two new schools, and requires a rezoning the city must sign off on before workers break ground.

“I consider it a transitional block — to provide a transition between the adjacent, higher-density zoning district, and the mid-rise residential neighborhoods,” Levin said during Council’s hearing on 80 Flatbush as part of its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. “It’s frankly frustrating that there’s a real reluctance to use the word transitional, not just among the development team, but others in the administration as well.”

Alloy wants the city to green-light a rezoning that would nearly triple the development site’s allowable floor-area ratio — a measurement abbreviated as FAR that determines how high a structure can be relative to the size of the land it is on — from its current cap of 6.5 to 18.

And in exchange, the firm plans to include 200 below-market-rate units, along with retail and commercial spaces, new classrooms for the beleaguered Khalil Gibran International Academy high school, and a new 350-seat elementary school within the complex’s five buildings, which include three newly built structures and two already on-site properties that will be refurbished.

Levin, who will likely cast the key vote on 80 Flatbush because it sits within his district, applauded the project’s public amenities, but said its proposed size fails to strike the necessary balance between Boerum Hill’s many smaller, single-family structures and the taller high-rises sprouting up nearby.

“It’s about a scale, and the experience of the local residents,” he said.

And although the complex falls within the city’s special Downtown Brooklyn district — where buildings’ size is regulated by density, not height — its proposed location is on land that separates Brownstones with FARs of 2 and denser towers with FARs of 12, and any structure on the lot must bridge the two densities, according to Levin.

“Nobody here is denying that Flatbush Avenue has high-rises, but this lot ought to be transitional, it’s a logical thing,” he said.

The councilman also chastised Department of Education officials for signing on to 80 Flatbush so that Alloy can foot the bill for new schools in the area in lieu of the agency finding other ways to bring more classrooms to the overcrowded district, claiming department leaders put him in the difficult position of having to choose between the desks or the massive buildings that will house them.

“What I have not seen from the Department of Education, in my eight-and-a-half years, is any consistent real planning for school seats in Downtown Brooklyn,” Levin said during the nearly four-hour hearing. “I‘ve seen a haphazard, ‘let’s take it where we can get it’ approach. That’s not acceptable.”

The pol’s push for a more-contextually zoned 80 Flatbush followed similar comments from Borough President Adams, who suggested Alloy chop more than 300 feet off its taller tower to help the complex better conform to its location in a recommendation he delivered earlier this summer as part of the ulurp process, during which the City Planning Commission approved the divisive project, while Community Board 2 overwhelmingly panned it.

Council will vote on the rezoning request in September, before which, the developer could revise its scheme.

But the project as is fits in with the neighborhood — especially considering how it has grown in the years since the city established the Downtown Brooklyn district — an Alloy bigwig argued at the hearing, before adding that he is open to feedback.

“To rely on text that is 14 years old as an indicator about what we should do for the future is a complicated and nuanced matter,” said Alloy chief-executive officer Jared Della Valle. “Which is not to say I’m disavowing the need to work together. It’s important.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.