Ditmas Park residents organize against Key Food upzoning on Cortelyou Road

City Council Candidate Josue Pierre, vying for Councilman Mathieu Eugene’s seat, attended a rally last month against the proposed development at 1620 Cortelyou Road.
Photo courtesy of Elana Reinholtz

Ditmas Park residents are demanding an end to a proposed upzoning of a Cortelyou Road grocery store — claiming the proposal fails to consider the needs of the community. 

“What we want is a good building for the community,” said Elana Reinholtz, a founding member of the neighborhood grassroots group Save Cortelyou, which organized in response to the 1620 Cortelyou Road proposal. 

Tony Doleh, co-owner of the one-story Key Food at E. 17th Street, is seeking approval to build two stories taller than the current zoning restriction of seven stories — arguing the extra floors are needed to make room for a supermarket in the residential structure. 

But residents contend the building will stand much higher than the proposed two stories when considering bulkheads and elevator shafts, and will tower over the rest of the Victorian enclave.

“With the bulkheads, elevators and all that stuff, we are going to like 100-and-something feet, it is going to be two-thirds more than everything around it,” Reinholtz said. 

Residents claim a proposed structure containing apartments and a grocery store will look out of place in Ditmas Park.Photo courtesy of John Oros

The five-person community group are calling on the grocer to construct a building that benefits their community with real affordable housing and climate resiliency measures, and charge that the current proposal doesn’t provide either.

“Come with your proposal and show that you listened to the community,” Reinholtz asked of developers, adding that the plan’s proposed 21 units designated “affordable” under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program “are not affordable, and they are not what the community needs.” 

The fewer than two dozen “affordable units” are representative of developers doing the bare minimum within the 85-unit structure, said activists, who are demanding that they offer a higher number of affordable units at prices set for the real incomes of Ditmas Park families, and at sizes suitable to families.

“We need low-income and ultra low-income,” Reinholtz said. “They are building studios and one-bedrooms. That is small and that’s not what the community needs.” 

Moreover, members of Save Cortelyou fear the development will drive up housing prices in the neighborhood south of Prospect Park — effectively driving many neighbors out of their homes.

Members of the volunteer advocacy group say they have been putting in more than 40 hours a week collectively to educate their neighbors on the incoming development, which will force the grocery store and a laundromat to close during construction.  

“It’s interesting to see how quickly they realize that maybe this isn’t a fair trade for us to lose our supermarket for two years,” said John Oros, a Save Cortelyou organizer.  “I think that the more we do this the more we will move people over.” 

The proposed development could also put the nearly 100 employees at the grocery store out of a job, the activists said, and could require the rerouting of two widely-used city buses.

“What are they going to do when they have to demolish the supermarket and build 44 parking spaces underground,” Reinholtz said of the grocery store employees. 

The group said they have been making daily calls to their local representatives to discuss the proposed development.  As of Monday, the activists said they had not received a response from area Councilman Mathieu Eugene, who holds outsized influence over the project’s approval in the City Council. 

“We don’t know how Eugene is going to vote,” Reinholtz said. “So it’s like, we can’t even rely on our community rep.”

Save Cortelyou organized a socially-distanced rally last month that saw over 100 participants and was attended by six city council candidates, but not by their elected councilman. 

“We are at 250 calls and counting… and 100 people in and out of the rally on Saturday,” said Reinholtz. “And we have not gotten a call back.” 

Community Board 14 issued an approval on the development’s rezoning on Nov. 9 hinged on a long list of conditions. The board asked the developers to increase affordability measures, reconfigure the building’s setback, research the proposed structure’s shadow, demonstrate that there are no environmental concerns on the property, expand on a traffic study, provide bike storage for residential and public use, and commit to providing a greener streetscape plan with regular maintenance and plantings. 

Eugene’s office and Tony Doleh’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.