City officials did an end run around existing zoning to allow the construction of a large Bay Ridge school on the site of the demolished Green Church.
Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott quietly granted school construction officials a zoning waiver — without public review — in a maneuver that the city frequently employs when it wants to build a public facility that could not be built under the current zoning.
The waiver gave the green light to the 680-seat elementary school at the corner of Fourth and Ovington avenues — which will tower over five attached townhouses abutting it.
And that’s not kosher with the locals.
“That’s a dictatorship, not a democracy,” remarked Ovington Avenue resident Antoine Khaled. “They think they can do anything they want.”
The override allows the School Construction Authority, which requested the waiver in March, to build to a height of 62 feet along 72nd Street, where existing zoning permits only 32 feet. The waiver also allows the city to build to a height of 75 feet along Fourth Avenue, where a 60-foot-high building is permitted.
The city’s ability to override its own zoning without public review is “unfair,” contended preservationist Victoria Hofmo.
“I’m really concerned about the people on 72nd Street,” Hofmo said, stressing, “I think it’s really wrong. I had no idea that the school was going to block people’s backyards.”
Education officials “investigated several design approaches” before they came to the conclusion that they couldn’t build a school that conformed to the zoning and also served the educational needs of the community, Sharon Greenberger, president and chief executive officer of the School Construction Authority, told Wolcott back in March.
The school would relieve overcrowding in the district, which needs to add 3,046 seats to cover existing needs, Greenberger said.
The added height on the Fourth Avenue side — which will incorporate a church-like tower — is also a symbolic nod to the “Green Church” itself, a 109-year-old Gothic house of worship that was torn down by members of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church because it had become too expensive to maintain. The congregation will use a portion of the cash from the sale to build a smaller church on a portion of the land.
City overrides of its own zoning are not uncommon when a project that is beneficial to city residents may be stymied by existing zoning, according to the Department of City Planning.