Council axes Bay Ridge home enlargements

Stop hammer time! Ridgites want freeze on home-enlargement permits
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

They want to keep Bay Ridge classy.

Council demolished a rule on Oct. 27 that lets Ridgites drastically enlarge their homes because people were taking advantage of so-called “special permits” to erect gaudy McMansions. The reversal is a win, because loophole abusers were tearing the neighborhood apart by building flashy digs that stuck out on otherwise idyllic blocks, one local leader said.

“A home is your biggest asset, and when you have someone who applies for a special permit and does not respect the character of the block, it pits neighbors against neighbors,” said Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann. “I am very happy that after many years of advocacy for its removal it’s finally completed.”

The permits were available to residents seeking to expand one- and two-family homes larger than zoning laws allow. The Department of City Planning created the permits so families could enlarge their homes as they had children — rather than having to move to a bigger house every time a new member joins the family.

The community board originally opted into the program 20 years ago believing that the city would ensure the expansions did not alter the neighborhood’s character, but the permits were frequently used for projects community leaders felt were inappropriate, said Beckmann.

“I think it was well-intended, but in time I think we realized that it really wasn’t being used as it was intended,” she said. “Now this protects community character and stops developers from using it to expand houses just because they can.”

Community Board 10 has tried to deep-six the special permits in the past, but the notion never gained traction. This go-around, Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) and the Department of City Planning helped the board draft an amendment to zoning law that would remove it from the special-permit program, and Gentile got his colleagues in Council to unanimously approve the measure.

The amendment took effect on Nov. 1.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.