Up for it: Levin backs controversial Downtown rezoning for new high-rise

No go: Community board 2 rejected a developer’s proposal to build a 49-story tower on Willoughby Street and Flatbush Avenue Extension, saying it was its chance to stand up to the rampant development in the area.
Community News Group / Lauren Gill

Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill) on Thursday voted to support a controversial Downtown rezoning that will allow a developer to build a new apartment complex on Flatbush Avenue Extension.

Both the local community board and Borough President Adams rejected the plan, arguing it would bring too many new people to the area without adding any infrastructure like school space to support them, but Levin struck a deal with the developer to reduce the size of the building, and says he is satisfied the compromise means the building now won’t be such a burden on the area.

“It would have less of an impact on important neighborhood infrastructure like schools,” he said.

Levin was one of 19 members of Council’s Land Use committee who voted to approved the application, with one member voting against it and one abstaining. The full Council still has to vote on the measure on Nov. 16, but the support of the local member usually guarantees its success.

Developer Savanna Partners had originally applied to build a 49-story high-rise on a triangular lot at Willoughby Street containing 270 units — 81 of which will be below-market-rate — seven floors of office space, and three floors of retail.

In addition to concerns about taxing local infrastructure, some pols were worried that approving the original rezoning would have set a dangerous precedent by allowing a lot of density on a small lot.

It called for a floor-area-ratio — the measure used to determine how large a building can be relative to the size of the land it is on — of 18, compared to the site’s current ratio of 7.8, which would allow only for a building of around 15 stories. Levin’s deal sets the ratio at 15 — around 44 stories.

Levin says he likes the project because it includes lots of retail and office space. The city rezoned Downtown in 2004 with the intention of creating more commercial buildings, but developers have instead erected dozens of residential buildings there, and he hopes new tower at 141 Willoughby St. will encourage other builders to include both.

“When they rezoned in 2004 they thought it would be 1 million square feet of residential and instead it’s been closer to 10 million once it’s finally built out,” he said. “This project was seeking to address some of those issues by having both commercial and residential in the same building.”

Schools were a big part of the negotiations, Levin claims, but because the city is in talks to build a school in the City Point complex next door, he didn’t think it was necessary for Savanna to put aside space or money for an educational institution.

“We had discussions around schools and few people are exploring siting a school in a building next door,” he said.

And at least one critic of Savanna’s original plan said he is happy with the compromise, given these sorts of rezoning tend to get approved one way or the other.

“It’s the best deal that we could’ve gotten and in the kind of real world of the way that land-use decisions are made by the city, that this was the best outcome that we could achieve,” said Peter Bray, the executive director of civic group the Brooklyn Heights Association, who discussed the deal with Levin with other community groups.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

More from Around New York