VINEGAR HILL – Community Board 2 voted on Wednesday to recommend against approving a request for rezoning of 265 Front Street that would see a truck lot in the heart of historic Vinegar Hill transformed into a 6-story residential building with first floor commercial space.
Michael and Thomas Spinard have run their trucking business, T S Contracting, out of the lot for 30 years according to Eric Palatnik, their lawyer.
Now Vinegar Hill is the most expensive neighborhood in Brooklyn, with over three times the median property sale price of the rest of the borough. The lot is prime real estate in a quiet neighborhood of historic brownstones and cobblestone streets.
“It’s a vacant lot right now,” said Palatnik. “Let’s face it, it’s not going to stay a vacant lot forever. It’s New York City in 2020.”
The proposal describes a 6-story corner building with nine residential units. There would be 12,000 square feet of residential space and a 3,000 square foot courtyard.
The proposal purposefully stays under the 10-unit threshold that would require building some affordable homes under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing initiative.
Palatnik acknowledged that the proposal is specifically designed to avoid including affordable housing. “The concept of MIH is that the loss that’s incurred by providing the affordable housing is picked up by the overall increase in bulk,” said Palatnik. “This property is too small… It doesn’t work.”
The vote against approving the rezoning came despite repeated reassurances that the Spinards are willing to compromise. “We don’t want anything that people can get pissed off about,” said Palatnik “We are perhaps the most willing, bendable rezoning applicants you will ever have in front of you.”
The Spinards are offering to work with the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association to create legally binding restrictive declarations that would limit the size of the building and the uses of the commercial space. The restrictive declarations would stay with the property in perpetuity, even if the deed changes hands.
Community Board members voiced their concerns that restrictive declarations could be circumnavigated by anyone with a crafty enough legal team.
Multiple speakers referenced the Rivington Nursing Home, a specialty elder care facility for people with HIV/AIDS that was demolished and replaced with luxury condos. Nursing home chain Allure Group bought the property and then paid $16 million to remove restrictive declarations from the building that mandated it stay a non-profit health care facility. They then flipped it for $116 million to Slate Property Group.
Palatnik repeatedly assured board members that, with the right contract, the restrictive declarations would be permanent and enforceable.
Vivian Scott, a Vinegar Hill resident, voiced concerns about how commercial space could change the nature of the neighborhood. “Our streets are so narrow for trucks. All retail establishments need deliveries and trucks,” said Scott. “If the [commercial zoning] is allowed… trucks will idle, they’ll back up. Traffic will be blocked. There’s noise. There’s pollution.”
Joseph Pasatoro, an engineer for the project, pointed out that the current zoning would still allow for some types of commercial use.
“All the things that I’m hearing that you’re against — and [the current owners] got multiple offers on the property from people who really don’t care about the neighborhood — all the things you don’t want in the neighborhood can be done in an M1-2 zone,” said Pasatoro. “In an M1-2 you can have almost any commercial use. You can have restaurants, you can have bars.”
The Spinards now have the choice of revising their plan to win approval from CB2 or making their case in front of Borough President Eric Adams without the community board’s blessing.
Palatnik said the Spinards are not ready to announce their next steps.
Update: Vivian Scott voiced concerns, not Aldona Vaiciunas.