Developer eyes Gowanus rezoning’s MTA station air rights sale in exchange for more apartments

272-4th Avenue_Rendering (2021.05.04)
A rendering of the proposed building at 272 Fourth Ave.
Avery Hall Investments

Manhattan-based developer Avery Hall Investments wants to buy the city-owned air rights for sale at a Fourth Avenue transit substation as part of the Gowanus rezoning, which would allow the builder to add dozens of apartments to a planned mixed-use tower next door, Brooklyn Paper can exclusively reveal.

The sale of development rights at the Garfield Substation would allow Avery Hall to add more flats to its proposed 15-story building at 272 Fourth Ave., at the corner of Carroll Street, according to the firm’s chief. 

“272 4th will help address the city’s ongoing housing crisis and fuel the city’s recovery by providing high-quality mixed-income housing and further enlivening this stretch of Fourth Avenue,” said Brian Ezra, an Avery Hall founding principal, in a statement. “We have a one-time opportunity to add more mixed-income housing for Brooklyn families to the project, bring additional investment and jobs to the area, and provide funding for the City and MTA through our purchase of air rights from the City — and we’re hopeful our partners at the City will leverage it to address these important public policy goals.”

The city is offering to hawk some 51,000 square feet of public air rights generated by the Gowanus rezoning at the Fourth Avenue transit power station near Garfield Place to an adjacent private developer, as Brooklyn Paper first reported in May.

The Garfield Substation at 276 Fourth Ave., near Garfield Place.Photo by Kevin Duggan

At the behest of the city’s business boosting arm the Economic Development Corporation, the Department of City Planning quietly wrapped the sale into the massive neighborhood rezoning proposal, which promises to enable the creation of 8,500 new housing units, including some 3,000 at below-market rates, in the gritty neighborhood around the toxic Gowanus Canal by 2035.

The station — owned by the city but leased to New York City Transit — powers the Fourth Avenue subway lines including the D, N, and R trains and would remain active under the city’s plans. 

If the contested rezoning passes its ongoing Uniform Public Land Use Review Procedure this year, the developer plans to erect an 125-apartment building with 30 units at below-market rates. And if they can buy the more than a football field’s worth of development rights from the city, they could increase that to 200 rental units, including 50 at below-market rates.

The building will not be taller than the 175-foot limit under the rezoning, which allows for 17 stories, but the purchase would allow Avery Hall to add more bulk to the development. 

The developer will also have to clean up the site via the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, due to historic pollution. 

If the city and electeds approve the Gowanus rezoning’s ULURP, Avery Hall would still need to win a public bidding process for the air rights under a Request for Proposal. 

The company did not give a specific dollar amount they were willing to shell out for the air rights, saying the price would still depend on what the city’s RFP looks like.

For comparison, the city recently sold almost 100,000 square feet of unusable air rights below the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo to developer Rabsky Group for $17.2 million, which will become office space in the builder’s adjacent tower at 69 Adams St. 

Avery Hall execs still plan to negotiate with the city how cheap the so-called affordable units will be, but said they will be at “low to middle income levels,” which typically covers incomes between 51–165 percent of the federally-designated Area Median Income. For a one-bedroom that would boil down to a monthly rent range of between $1,105 and $3,621.

A DCP spokesman said they appreciated the offer but are currently more focused on getting the rezoning approved. 

“We appreciate the interest in purchasing potential development rights. Any sale of these potential development rights needs ULURP approval first,” said Joe Marvilli in a statement. “Right now, we look forward to continuing the public review of the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan through the summer and fall.”

The developer recently bought the main lot housing an auto body shop at 272 Fourth Ave. in 2019 for $15 million, according to property records, and on Thursday scooped up the two adjacent properties at 274 Fourth Ave. and 538 Carroll St. for a combined $5.3 million. 

The buildings at and around 272 Fourth Ave. currently house an auto body shop and a vacant commercial space.Google

The total 180,000 square-foot development (or 130,000 square feet without the air rights sale) — the size of almost four football fields — would also contain 6,000 square-foot ground floor retail, and Avery Hall plans to break ground at the end of 2021 and finish construction by 2024. The project’s total development cost will be roughly $90 million, or $120 million with the air rights purchase.  

The developer also plans to convert a former gas station famous for its Black Lives Matter murals three blocks away at 204 Fourth Ave., between Union and Sackett streets, into a 17-story apartment tower, which would include a larger entrance and elevator to the R train’s Union Street station on the Bay Ridge-bound side in exchange for the city allowing them to build higher.

DCP will present the full Gowanus rezoning, — which includes the proposed air rights sale — at a “hybrid” meeting via Zoom and an in-person gathering at Washington Park on the astroturf area at Third Street, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, in Park Slope. Thursday, June 3, 3:30-11 pm. For more information on how to register (required for attending in person and giving testimony), see here. To tune into the livestream, visit DCP’s YouTube channel