Key Food on Cortelyou Road seeks rezoning, angering Ditmas locals

Cortelyou Road
The rendering for what could potentially occupy the site.
T.F. Cusanelli & Filletti Architects

A grocer in Ditmas Park is looking to rebuild his Cortelyou Road building, and he’s asking for permission to erect the new structure taller than is currently allowed under zoning laws — but some community members are anxious about the effect of a super-sized building on the Victorian enclave.

“Over the years we’ve gotten offers from developers, they want to develop the site and they want to do different things. Some of them promise to keep the supermarket there, most likely they will make it smaller or remove it altogether,” Tony Doleh, who owns Key Food near E. 17th Street, told Community Board 14 on Oct. 21. “We decided to do development there and to do something that is beneficial to the community which is a larger supermarket.”

While the Key Food currently resides in a one-story building, Doleh could theoretically build a new structure with several more floors given his current R6-A zoning restrictions — but he claims that he needs the even bigger R7-D designation to make the plan work, and to financially keep a food store inside the proposed new building. 

If he gets the land use change, the Cortelyou Road building would include the supermarket, along with 85 apartments — 21 of which would be designated “affordable” under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. 

According to Richard Lobel, the land-use attorney representing Doleh, the affordable units would range in price between $717 and $1,570, and would be made up of two studio apartments, 15 one bedroom apartments, and five two bedroom apartments.

Some locals who testified at the virtual hearing vented their anger at the proposed height of the new development, and expressed skepticism that the rezoning was really needed.

“This idea that you can’t keep the grocery store, you can’t do the affordable housing unless you build far in excess of what’s already allowed there, that is just not credible,” said Ditmas Parker Christina Giorgino. “If the developer, owner, wants to make that assertion he should have to lay out the financials to establish that, because our neighborhood is going to be permanently impacted for the worst.” 

Lobel, however, noted that several lots across the street from Key Food are already zoned for the larger R7-D designation, making it unfair to suggest that their requested change would damage the area’s character. 

Others criticized the proposal for offering just 20-percent of the units as affordable, which is the minimum amount required under the city’s program.

“That 80/20 is really just nothing,” said Cortelyou Road resident Whitney Paine.

Lobel pointed out that the current zoning would allow another developer to build a 70-to-80 foot building as of right, with no obligation to keep the ground floor supermarket — but that in order for the project to be feasible for Doleh, he needs the additional density. 

“It’s not something which is feasible for Tony to do, but it is feasible for someone else to come in and build a 70-to-80 foot building merely by filing permits with the Department of Buildings,” he said. 

The project will soon go before the board for an advisory vote, before going through the city’s nearly-seven month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.