Bullet Points: Community Board 15 – May 29, 2012

“Bullet Points” is our new format for Community Board 15 meeting coverage, providing takeaways we think are important. Information in Bullet Points is meant only to be a quick summary, and some issues may be more deeply explored in future articles.

Boardmembers push to beautify Manhattan Beach, oppose aesthetic improvements at Knapp Street sewage plant: Parks Department’s Brooklyn Chief of Staff Martin Maher came before the Board last night to provide the community with updates on ongoing projects in the district – including at Bill Brown Park, Galapo Playground, Brigham Street Park and Emmons Avenue – but the presentation quickly turned to Manhattan Beach as members barraged Maher with questions and complaints (video above).

Boardmembers, led by CB15 First Vice Chair Alan Ditchek (who also serves as president of the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association), questioned Maher on the frequency of inspections at Manhattan Beach park, as well as the status of slated projects including renovation of the basketball courts. Maher said there is currently a feasibility study to determine uses for the bathhouse building, and that a contract on the eastern basketball courts was delayed by suspicious-appearing bids from contractors. Boardmembers, though, said they wanted more attention paid to the western courts – the ones near the Falmouth Street park entrance – as well as more money put into maintenance, fence repairs and beautification. The repairs to the eastern courts, the smaller of the two basketball areas, are covered by $300,000 allocated by Councilman Nelson, and it’s unclear how much the additional repairs requested in Manhattan Beach would cost.

But outside of Manhattan Beach another local beautification project, costing just a fraction of the amount of just the basketball court rehabilitation, was jeered by members who declared it a waste of money. The Department of Environmental Protection presented a $10,000 initiative to improve the appearance around the Coney Island Wastewater Treatment Plant on Knapp Street. The plans include restoring the wave fence, installing benches, fixing sidewalks, and planting vegetation around the facility to provide a more natural environment around the unsightly facility. The improvements will also include renovations around the Kings Bay Youth Organization hockey and football fields, which are on DEP-owned property, and are meant to “humanize Knapp Street,” as well as Coyle Street, Voorhies Avenue and Avenue Y.

Though the DEP does not need the Board’s approval, the Board panned the plan.

“You’re spending this amount of money to decorate a sewer plant or water treatment plant, but we can’t get a basketball court,” one boardmember from Manhattan Beach said.

Zoning items:

  • 2011 East 22nd Street: The board rejected an application for a special permit to allow the enlargement of this single-family semi-detached home. The property owner wanted to increase his floor area by more than twice the permitted amount, to 2,049 square feet, and shrink side yards to below the required minimum amount. Neighbors criticized the project, citing concerns about blocking sunlight and changing the character of the block, as well as effects to the attached house which it currently matches. The board voted 22-19 against the application.
  • 2615-2621 East 17th Street: This mixed-use development, which has retail and office space on the first two floors and residential units above that, requested the Board approve a special permit reducing the parking requirement for its commercial space to zero. The first floor of this space was originally intended as a showroom for a Vespa dealership that never materialized, the property owner’s attorney said. Auto showrooms do not have parking requirements, and so the building was built with 30 less parking spaces than would otherwise be required. A luxury auto dealer briefly took the spot but the space has been vacant since. The attorney said the owner would like to file for a change of use so he can market the space for office use. To do so, he needed the requirement to be cut from 30 to 15. Since the property already has six extra parking spaces for residential use, reducing the minimum to 15 would trigger a provision in zoning law that waives the requirement of property owners to build parking spaces for less than 15 cars, effectively reducing the parking requirement to zero. Boardmembers criticized the plan, saying Sheepshead Bay needs more parking, not less, and overwhelmingly rejected the application (39-2). The attorney said the landlord would continue to seek an auto use for the space.
  • 2051 East 19th Street: The Board voted to legalize this improperly constructed one-family home, which violated zoning when it overbuilt onto a side yard in 1998. The owner shrank the side yard to two feet, though the law requires five feet. Some boardmembers objected to the legalization, arguing that the Board has a history of refusing any legalization as they sometimes permit abuse by developers. The final vote was 23-12.
  • 1720-1728 Sheepshead Bay Road: Bally’s Total Fitness received a thumbs up from the Board to continue operating as a physical culture establishment at its current Sheepshead Bay Road address. The facility required a special permit when it first moved to the site in 1987, but it expired in 2007. As part of Bally’s bankruptcy proceedings, the business is required to bring all of its facilities in New York City up to code, and so a new permit needed to be issued. No new work is to be done at the location.
  • 303 Avenue X: The Board voted overwhelmingly (37-2) to give the city the green light to purchase the property currently operating as the Gravesend branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. It is one of the few properties the library leases rather than owns, and the city is purchasing it from a private owner on behalf of the library in the hopes that it will help reduce overhead for the library system.

Other notable information:

  • In addition to the beautification project, the Department of Environmental Protection made a presentation on the construction of a new Chlorine Reduction Facility at the Coney Island Waste Water Treatment Plant. The facility will reduce the amount of chlorine in treated sewage that is pumped out through outfalls in Jamaica Bay. Chlorine kills micro-organisms in the Bay, and the new facility will reduce the chlorine by neutralizing it with sodium bisulfite. The facility will be on the existing grounds of the treatment plant. Some Boardmembers expressed concerns about noise and environmental impacts, especially due to its proximity to schools including Brooklyn Amity, Sheepshead Bay High School and Shell Bank Junior High School. However, the EDP rep noted that this is mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. “We’ve been trying to put it off, but now we’ve got to pay the piper,” the rep said. The Board passed a resolution in support of the project.
  • The Board passed a resolution to support a request that the City Council demand more information and safety precautions before installing a pipeline in Manhattan that carries hydrofracked natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. You can read more about the concerns around the pipeline here.
  • Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association President Ed Jaworski criticized the Board’s zoning chair, Ronald Tawil, for admitting at a previous meeting that he has a bias towards development. Tawil had said at a previous meeting that he views the Board’s role in approving special applications for developments as “our own stimulus program” for putting people to work. Jaworski, though, said the Board should cease “rubber stamping special permits,” and that these projects are often done by unscrupulous developers who build out of character, cut corners and blight neighborhoods with stalled projects.
  • The Teen RAPP coordinator at Sheepshead Bay High School urged Boardmembers to support the program. RAPP — Relationship Abuse Prevention Program — has been running in 62 host schools throughout New York City. The program provides preventative measures for teens facing bullying and dating or domestic violence, using  prevention classes, intervention counseling, staff development and training and community outreach. Mayor Bloomberg’s budget proposes to cut all funding to the project, effectively ending it in July, and advocates are fighting back.
  • Residents whose garbage should have been collected on Monday, Memorial Day, or on the Tuesday following it, may not have been serviced by the Department of Sanitation because of a shortage of garbage trucks, District Manager Pearl Burg said. Residents will not be fined for leaving their garbage at the curb until later in the week, but it is recommended that they be brought back onto private property.
  • There is no weekend or holiday parking in Manhattan Beach until September 15.
  • The Community Board alerted residents that there appears to be a rise in scammers in the neighborhood, particularly of one scheme in which people pose as collectors for a charity. Do not give anyone money at your door or let anyone into your home without proper identification.
  • Following complaints about bottle collectors entering private property to obtain recyclables, the Board advised residents not to leave returnable bottles and cans exposed in view of the street.
  • Chick Pallotta, on the Public Safety Committee and liaison to the NYPD’s 61st Precinct, said the first four months of the year produced good news in the district – the Precinct made 1,200 arrests. He noted that he had invited Deputy Inspector Georgios Mastrokostas to attend this meeting or the next – a request made last month by members concerned about a spike in crime – but that he had not yet given a response.

If you like the Bullet Points format, or have suggestions for improvement, or see an item you’d like to know more about – let us know in the comments section!