Council moves to approve controversial Cortelyou Road rezoning

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

The City Council’s Land Use Committee voted to approve the contentious Cortelyou Road rezoning on Thursday, all but assuring its passage thanks to the support of Councilmember Mathieu Eugene.

The rezoning paves the way for the development of a nine-story, 85-unit apartment building on the current site of a Key Food near E. 17th Street in Ditmas Park. Eugene, whose district encompasses the building site, said he was satisfied with the current proposal, and that it was preferable to what the current zoning would allow as-of-right.

“The simple fact is that the as-of-right scenario here offers no public benefit in terms of affordable housing,” Eugene told fellow councilmembers during a virtual meeting on March 4. “I think it’s a good project for my district and I’m supporting it.”

Tony Doleh, the owner of the lot and the Key Food that sits upon it, has said he needs to develop the parcel in order to upgrade and inevitably keep the supermarket. Under the current rezoning agreement, Doleh’s supermarket would be maintained in the ground floor retail space of the new building. 

The current zoning already allows for a 70- to 80-foot building, but Doleh has said he needs the zoning change in order to make the project economically feasible for him, and to allow for more permanently “affordable” units, of which the project will contain 23. Doleh has also floated the possibility of selling the lot to another developer, who would be under no obligation to keep a supermarket in the space.

However, the project has sparked controversy in traditionally low-rise Ditmas Park. Some have criticized the proposal for being out of context and for not containing enough affordable housing, while others have gone as far as accusing Eugene of not being transparent enough in the process, and of engaging further with developers than constituents.

“I’m just so disappointed about how this played out,” said area resident John Oros. “Eugene claimed to have had a lot of conversations with the community but after one call two weeks ago, his office hasn’t replied to any of my or my neighbor’s emails on this issue.”

During Thursday’s council hearing, Eugene touted an updated deal he was able to reach with the developers, which includes the elimination of studio and one-bedroom apartments in favor of larger units to accommodate families, the strengthening of affordable housing requirements, and an altering of the facade of the building that reduces the bulk.

A representative for the developer hailed Eugene’s decision.

“We are grateful for the Council’s decision to support the recommendation of Community Board 14, Borough President Eric Adams, and the City Planning Commission,” said land use attorney Richard Lobel. “Instead of luxury condos, the community will now benefit from 23 permanently affordable apartments — most of which will go to community residents — and a supermarket that will continue to provide affordable groceries as it has for over 20 years.”

The rezoning passed the committee 5-1, with the lone opposing vote cast by Bronx Councilmember Diane Ayala, who said she was unimpressed with the project’s income-targeted housing components. 

“I think the developer had an opportunity to seek subsidies to allow for more development of affordable housing in this project and decided not to,” Ayala said. “[23] units is really not a lot of housing.”