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Upzone smackdown: CB18 bows to opposition on rezone bid

Legalize it?: As locals fight zone-busting developments such as this one on Kimball Street, Community Board 18 district manager Dottie Turano was suggesting that the neighborhood just be rezone to make them legal.
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She backed down on the upzoning.

Community Board 18 district manager Dottie Turano finally surrendered to Marine Parkers when she vowed to back off a contentious budget request asking the city to look at rezoning the neighborhood during a board meeting on Nov. 15.

“If that’s what the community wants,” Turano said during the meeting, “next budget, it will not be in there.”

Locals showed up in droves with nostrils flaring two weeks ago protesting the board’s request urging the city to look at changing the age-old zoning of Marine Park and Mill Island to allow developers to put up larger buildings. Marine Parkers were up in arms over the submission, charging the neighborhood can’t handle an influx of people or construction and is already combatting zone-busting developers on several blocks.

This paper first reported the explosive item in the CB18 budget request earlier this month in a story that Turano denounced with the Trumpian epithet of “fake news,” despite being unable to cite any factual errors. Turano insisted there was no reason for people to get so upset since there was no concrete upzoning plan yet— it was merely a request she had actually been floating for years, she said.

“It’s been in the budget for several years,” said Turano.

Indeed, CB18 slipped the item into the budget — “Study land use and zoning to better match current use or future neighborhood needs,” specifically the areas of Mill Island and Marine Park — for the first time in December 2015, and then every year since, according to city records.

The request also lists three local supporters alongside — Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park), who represents the vast majority of the two neighborhoods, Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush), who represents a sliver of the community, and the Marine Park Civic Association.

But both Maisel and the civic group’s president Bob Tracey said they were never consulted about it. In fact, neither of them had any idea the rezoning request even existed, let alone that they were listed as supporters.

“It came up in the budget, no one ever knew about it,” said Tracey, who spoke out adamantly against upzoning the neighborhood during the Nov. 15 board meeting. “It wasn’t something that the Marine Park Civic was involved with or anything. I want to leave it as it is right now.”

Maisel said he was equally confused about how his name could have wound up there, since he was never asked.

“How did that manifest itself? I’m not really sure how, certainly in the last three years I have not been asked about it,” said Maisel. “I don’t support it. If they did that, I didn’t authorize them to and I don’t ever recall speaking in favor of it.”

Williams couldn’t recall whether he was ever asked about the zoning, saying it wasn’t familiar to him, but that he would support something called contextual zoning — a way to build up that still allows a neighborhood to maintain its existing character.

But even the board couldn’t seem to get its story straight about how the inflammatory rezoning request found its way into the documents sent to the city year after year. The board’s chairman pointed the finger at Turano, and then backtracked when she denied his claim.

“Dottie made a point speaking for herself that she thinks maybe there should be some upzoning,” said Sol Needle, who is also president of the Mill Island Civic Association. “Dottie said I misspoke then,” he added later.

The issue now has locals arguing on both sides, with petitions circulating both for and against upzoning. The petition urging city leaders to stop any upzoning plan in its tracks has garnered more than 2,000 signatures, while one advocating for the ability to build higher and larger homes has collected more than 550.

But even if the city were to green-light the requested study, it would be a long and arduous process that wouldn’t just happen overnight, said Maisel, but only after significant discussion and meetings.

“We aren’t even close to when the budget is going to be adopted by the city, which would be in June 2018,” he said. “If the city agrees to do a study, a study could take two years.”

It may be a long ways off, but the community isn’t ready to go down without a fight, said Tracey.

“This is the beginning, it’s not an uprising, it’s our community talking,” he said.

Turano did not respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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