What’s in it for us? Downtowners reject high-rise because it doesn’t have school or subway entrance

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

A developer must build a new school or subway entrance into the 49-story luxury apartment building it wants to erect Downtown, demanded members of a panel, who voted to reject the building on Wednesday night.

Rampant development has overwhelmed area schools and transit, argued Community Board 2 members, and it is time to take a stand against developers who only contribute to the problem.

“This is the first time we had an opportunity to say we’ve had enough, we’ve had too much, and if you can’t put a school or a subway station in a building, it doesn’t work,” said one Community Board 2 member.

The board voted 30–3 with one recusal against developer Savanna Partners’ proposed high-rise at Willoughby Street and Flatbush Avenue Extension, which would include 270 units — 81 of which will be below-market-rate — seven floors of office space, and three floors of retail.

The board did, however, vote 24–8 with one recusal to approve the city’s sale of a small adjacent park to Savanna for $4.8 million. The developer will have to maintain it as a park, but can use the land’s air rights towards its tower’s height.

Savanna paid $28 million for the lot in January 2014 and originally planned to construct a 30-story tower there. But now it needs the city’s approval for its revised design, because it is larger than the lot’s zoning currently allows.

Members said local schools and public transit are already bursting at the seams as Downtown’s population and skyline has boomed in recent years, and rejecting the tower sends a message to developers who aren’t giving anything back to the community.

“We’re very concerned with the rampant development that has taken place in our neighborhood,” said Carlton Gordon, who is the chair of Community Board 2’s land use committee, which also rejected the plan last month. “We’ve said ‘hold it at this time’ because of the effect it would have on school population and transit.”

But some locals feared that turning down a plan that includes below-market-rate housing was a bad idea, as the developer might not be able to meet all of the community board’s demands, and could instead build something that doesn’t require community approval but has no cheap apartments.

“I don’t think we should turn that down and ask for something unrealistic,” said one woman.

Community Board 2 District Manager Rob Perris also later said he had discussed the idea of putting a school in the building with the School Construction Authority, and was told it wasn’t a suitable site due to the small size and irregular shape of the land.

It’s not the first time the triangular slice of land has fallen under siege. The city planned to seize the lot — which currently houses a school for construction workers — when it upzoned Downtown in 2004, but backed down after community members and pols demanded it spare the school from the wrecking ball.

The community board’s vote is only advisory, but it is the first part of a lengthy public consultation gauntlet Savanna must run before city officials and pols vote on the high-rise.

The developer will next take the plan Borough Hall for a public hearing on Monday evening.

141 Willoughby St. hearing at Borough Hall (209 Joralemon St. at Court Street, Downtown). June 13 at 6 pm.

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

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