‘Too Tall! Too Close! Too Much!,’ Say Opponents Of 80 Flatbush

‘Too Tall! Too Close! Too Much!,’ Say Opponents Of 80 Flatbush

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS – Community Board 2 held the first ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) public hearing for Alloy Development’s 80 Flatbush project Wednesday evening at St. Francis College.

The line waiting to get into the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

Founders Auditorium was packed as supporters and opponents of the project came in droves to get their voices heard. Trying to get the long line of attendees inside and signed in proved difficult, delaying the hearing’s start time by 25 minutes. Approximately 200 people were shut out of the meeting once the venue reached capacity.

Alloy proposes to build two mixed-use towers, one 38 stories and the other 74 stories, featuring 700 market-rate apartments and 200 permanently affordable units. 80 Flatbush will also include a 15,000-square-foot cultural space, 40,000-square-foot ground floor commercial/retail space, and two new schools—a new facility for the Khalil Gibran International Academy High School as well as a new 350-seat elementary school.

The developer is requesting that the project site—bounded by Flatbush Avenue, State Street, 3rd Avenue, and Schermerhorn Street—be rezoned to allow the the development to rise much higher than the current zoning allows. The taller of the two proposed new towers will stand 986 feet tall, “dwarfing and blocking the view of Brooklyn’s beloved, landmarked Williamsburg Savings Bank building,” while “tax[ing] the sanitation, safety and sewerage resources of the residential area,” and “cast[ing] enormous shadows over the neighborhood,” community groups opposing the project argue.

CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

CB2’s Vice Chair, Lenue Singletary moderated the hearing, which started with the Educational Construction Fund (ECF) and Alloy Development presenting the project.

Alloy Development’s CEO, Jared Della Valle, and President, AJ Pires, along with ECF’s  Executive Director, Jennifer Maldonado, touted the public benefits of 80 Flatbush, noting that the development will bring 3,000 jobs to the area (1,500 construction, 1,500 permanent), as well as affordable housing (200 units at 60% Area Median Income), office space, cultural space, and new schools.

In adding schools seats to the district, Alloy is working with ECF, a public benefit corporation that builds new public schools as part of mixed-use developments without using capital funding from the NYC Department of Education (DOE).

Alloy Development CEO, Jared Della Valle, at the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

The developers added that they have held dozens of meetings regarding the project to receive feedback from the community and stakeholders, and have modified their plans according to input received. Among some of the changes made are, preserving two historical buildings on the site, reducing parking, removing a loading dock on State Street, redesigning the towers’ facades (using masonry), and redesigning the smaller, Phase 1 tower so it echoes the adjacent Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower with a narrower profile and a series of setbacks.

Howard Kolins, President of the Boerum Hill Association (BHA), had ten minutes to present his case against Alloy’s proposed towers. He noted that while locals support “intelligent development,” Alloy is focusing on maximizing mass, height, and bulk while disregarding the neighborhood’s traditional four- to five-story brownstone architecture, context, design, and zoning.

Boerum Hill Association President Howard Kolins at the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

When BHA first saw the proposal last April, Kolins said they initially thought the project was  “too tall and too close,” for a partial city block, then ultimately realized it’s “too much.”

“This plan is overloaded beyond reason. This particular project is often blind to its surroundings and therefore the BHA’s main point of opposition is the tripling of the Floor Area Ratio [FAR]….” he said. “We need intelligent development that doesn’t ignore Boerum Hill. It needs to blend Downtown with Boerum Hill. It needs to have neighborhood context. There needs to be real planning, sensible zoning, and neighborhood sensitivity. The formulaic maximizing of the FAR to 18 while all of Downtown is limited to 12 makes no sense and certainly makes no sense at this residential block…. We didn’t say ‘don’t build anything,’ we said it needs transitional zoning.”

“I would be remiss if I did not thank Alloy for meeting with the Boerum Hill residents repeatedly and for their patience in discussing the loading dock, trash, traffic, construction,  building facades, but our—pun intended—larger issues could never be discussed,” Kolins added. It is not in the plan’s interests or Alloy’s interests to take 20 stories off the building. So we ask you to deny the change of FAR to 18 and begin a real conversation that includes the community and the residents that live here now. At 986 feet, the taller tower will be the largest in Brooklyn and the 16th tallest in New York City.”

“Up-zoning this lot to the highest density zoning district in New York City, a district zoning that is currently found only in Lower Manhattan, in an area that should be stepping down from Downtown is a violation of the public trust. Let’s work with the community and do better,” he pleaded.

A sign Kolins displayed reading, “Too Tall! Too Close! Too Much!,” summed up the feelings of many in the auditorium.

The floor was then opened up for public testimony, where supporters and opponents were given two minutes to voice their opinions about the project. Once the clock struck 9pm (the time the hearing was originally scheduled to end), Singletary noted that he still hadn’t gotten through half of the list of those who’d signed up to speak, so he had to cut the time limit to one minute in an effort to hear from everyone.

Opponents of 80 Flatbush expressed their concerns and frustrations including the scale and density of the project; the congestion, traffic, and trash the development will bring to the area; the issue of its blocking views of the Williamsburgh Bank clock tower; and its negative environmental impact.  Many also noted that the project does not include enough units of affordable housing or seats for students.

Several Boerum Hill and Fort Greene residents chastised the developers for improperly identifying the location of the site as Downtown Brooklyn, noting that it is in fact, Boerum Hill—a low-rise Brownstone neighborhood.

Supporters of the project lauded its “smart development” and the new office and cultural spaces it will create for the area.

See the excerpts below for some of what was said last night.

NYC Public Advocate Letitia James at the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

NYC Public Advocate, Former District 35 City Council Member, and Clinton Hill resident, Letitia James:
“I’ve met with the developers, Alloy, of this proposed project and I’ve expressed my concerns about the unprecedented scale and height of the project, especially in regards to the fact that it would be directly across the street from low-rise townhouses. In addition, I know that tripling the FAR will create a dangerous precedent. I am also concerned about the timing of the affordable housing, which is much needed in this neighborhood, concerned that it will be built after the market-rate housing. Given the fluctuations in the market, we cannot rely on that promise. So at this point in time, I completely oppose this project because the negative impacts outweigh all of the public benefits….”

“The density, the timing of the affordable housing, the lack of transparency, the question with respect to the schools, and the fact as we said during the Atlantic Yards fight that it’s ‘going to block the clock,’ I just think this project will be totally unprecedented and will open up the floodgates to all of the out-of-scale developments which will overshadow the brownstone community that I grew up in and that I love… And even though I’m citywide now, I always come back  to my community to express my position, and my position right now is this project should be dead on arrival.”

Representatives for Assembly Members Jo Anne Simon and Walter T. Mosley read statements declaring the pols’ opposition to 80 Flatbush while reps for Council Member Laurie Cumbo and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer attended the hearing to listen to what the community had to say.

A representative for NYS Senator Velmanette Montgomery read a statement that opened with:
“Let me begin with saying I am unequivocally against using public resources to support the proposed development of 80 Flatbush Avenue. While I recognize the extensive capital needs of Khalil Gibran International Academy and support the involvement of the Fifth Avenue Committee on this project, the overstated public benefits do not outweigh the potential damage to our community and the millions of lost property tax values.

“The very culture, character, and spirit of our neighborhoods that attracted people to come here are dying and the developments like 80 Flatbush are killing it. Let me be clear, I am not against development. I am against socially irresponsible out-of-scale over-development. I am against tax-payers subsidizing private developers under the guise of public benefits. I am against myopic city planning that evaluates projects individually rather than within the context of community development. I am against homeowners and small business owners bearing the weight of escalating property tax values because new development projects are exempt from contributing to city and state tax coffers. I am against the lack of planning that enables massive development projects to be built without consideration for the burdens placed on New York City’s aging infrastructure.”

Downtown Brookyn Partnership’s Regina Myer at the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

President of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Regina Myer:
“On behalf of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, I’d like to express our strong support for the 80 Flatbush project. This project will bring critical public infrastructure to Brooklyn with two new public schools, market-rate and affordable housing, a new cultural and community facility, and Class-A office space, and the project delivers all this public benefit without the use of any city capital funds at one of the most transit-rich locations in New York City.”

“Brooklyn has seen an unprecedented residential and commercial growth over the past ten years and we need to be strategic about how and where that growth can be accommodated. The area surrounding the intersections of Flatbush, 4th, and Atlantic Avenues has been an active hub dating back to the completion of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank in 1929 with its extensive access to transit, especially along Flatbush and Atlantic Terminal, we believe 80 Flatbush is particularly appropriate.”

Rockwell Place Community Garden’s Ron Janoff at the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

Rockwell Place Community Garden, Coordinator, Ron Janoff:
“Our 38 volunteer members have voted unanimously to oppose the rezoning after learning from Alloy’s EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] that our public amenity will be irremediably damaged by the shadow of their development…. Zoning was introduced in New York City in 1960 to tame development and save sunlight for citizens. Now Brooklyn, once dead, is coming back to life but its streets are going dark. Our garden stands to be the unwitting victim of unpredictable spot rezoning spinning out of control. We were here when no one was here. We want to be here for generations to come…. We are calling on you to reject the rezoning and the Alloy proposal and Save Our Sunlight.”

Longtime Fort Greene resident, Lucy:
After reading off a list of 16 bullet points noting the negative impacts of the towers, she closed with, “It will block the most iconic landmark in Brooklyn. Don’t block the clock. Block the tower!”

Fort Greene Resident, Norman Ryan:
He described the 80 Flatbush project as a “monstrous over-build inside the heart of a historic residential Brooklyn neighborhood” and added, “There is good reason for rational zoning and well-considered urban design, one that acknowledges quality of life, neighborhood character, scale, and density. To triple the density of this cornerstone site in a residential, transitional neighborhood that is not located in Downtown Brooklyn, is to set a dangerous precedent throughout New York City for unchecked development and ultimately the undoing of countless, precious, historic neighborhoods. Development cannot and should not trump rational public policy. Let’s grow Brooklyn, but let’s do it in a way that makes sense for its residents. Access to good schools and affordable housing are critical issues facing our city, sadly Alloy and ECF have glibly used both as sugarcoating to sell their plan.”

Neighbor and mother of an elementary school-age child (Maxwell), Cynthia:
“We can do better than Flatbush and State Street as a location for a new school. Do we care so little about the safely of our children? I would never allow my eight-year-old son to attend a school in such a dangerous location.”

Maxwell at the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

Eight-year-old Maxwell:
“I dearly oppose this project that will destroy our neighborhood…. Why open an even bigger door to Brooklyn becoming midtown Manhattan?”

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Vice President, Lori Raphael:
“I’d like to express our organization’s strong support for the 80 Flatbush project. This project will create 3,000 jobs, strengthen the commercial corridor of Flatbush, and provide much needed Class-A office space to Brooklyn. It is imperative that as a borough we manage growth carefully. Considering all of the public benefits of this project, 80 Flatbush is an example of the smart development we need and we urge you to make this project a reality.”

“Demand for office space in Downtown Brooklyn is at a record high, driven by a tremendous growth in creative businesses and innovation…. This project will deliver 200,000 square feet of Class-A office space, and critically it is well located on Flatbush Avenue and close to Atlantic Terminal connecting it to all of New York City and Long Island.”

State Street Resident, Jonathan Glaser:
“What [the developers] did not discuss are the true costs of the project. According to public sources, Alloy Development paid approximately $80 million for the parcels totaling 44,000 square feet. Current zoning on those parcels would allow construction of 307,000 square feet, which means Alloy paid $260 per square buildable foot. An approval of the yielder would transfer control of close to one million buildable square feet to Alloy, and at $260 a square foot purchase price, that transfer of public real estate to a private entity is worth over $250 million. This windfall will dramatically increase the profit and rate of return on Alloy’s initial investment.”

An 80 Flatbush opponent speaking at the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

Representative of Union 32BJ SEIU, Hannah Birnbaum:
“I’m testifying on behalf of 32BJ SEIU to express our union’s strong support for rezoning of 80 Flatbush in Downtown Brooklyn. The project’s developer, Alloy Development, is a responsible developer, that is committed to creating good-paying jobs on this project. In addition, we support the project’s commitment to the development of much-needed affordable housing in this increasingly expensive neighborhood.”

Alloy has partnered with 32BJ SEIU, the largest property services workers union in the country, on the 80 Flatbush project in an effort to create permanent jobs with fair wages, healthcare, job training, and retirement benefits for the building’s maintenance and security staff.

Former City Council Candidate for District 33, Victoria Cambranes:
“Some of you might know me. I ran for City Council in the last election. I’m a lifelong resident of Brooklyn. We’ve seen these developments and these developers come with good intentions to our communities in North Brooklyn and Downtown Brooklyn and in historic districts all across Brooklyn. They promise the bells and whistles. They promise lots of beautiful things but they never deliver…. From your notes [gesturing toward Alloy’s Della Valle and Pires]—I’ve sat next to you all night—your wonderful little ‘tough questions’ notes that you had written down, those sound a lot like Trump’s meeting with the Parkland students. We know exactly what a PR stunt looks like. We know what it takes to buy non-profits and have them come here and paraded around…[drowned out by applause].”

“We oppose this project not just in its parts but in its entirety. We want to make concessions with you that are reasonable to the community and not for you to listen to all of these complaints and arguments and then do nothing. Your modifications of masonry are adorable but they’re not enough. You need to lower the height of this building immediately. You need to re-house those students and you need to make sure that those affordable apartments are at least 50% of whatever the hell you’re building.”

Winston Hamann, Principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, voicing his support for 80 Flatbush at the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

Other supporters of the 80 Flatbush project included: the Department of Education, Fifth Avenue Committee (who will work with Alloy on 80 Flatbush’s affordable housing component), the Principal and students of the Khalil Gibran International Academy High School, the Director of Recess (who Alloy has given a space on the site at Schermerhorn for two years rent-free), and Transportation Alternatives.

Opponents of 80 Flatbush following the CB2 ULURP Public Hearing for 80 Flatbush Rezoning (Photo: Pamela Wong/BKLYNER)

Upcoming 80 Flatbush ULURP Meetings:
Community Board 2 Land Use Committee Meeting (the committee will vote on the project at this meeting)
Wednesday, April 18 at 6pm
St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ Public Hearing
Monday, April 30 at 6pm
Brooklyn Borough Hall


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