Officials want to stop the McMansionization of Bay Ridge

Councilman says developers abused special permits to expand homes

New York /
Jun.June 14, 2016 07:00 AM

Officials in southwest Brooklyn are pushing to get rid of a zoning trick that lets homeowners expand one- and two-family homes.

Community Board 10, which includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton, is seeking to bar a zoning rule that allows homeowners to build out one- and two-family homes beyond the area’s zoning restrictions. District manager Josephine Beckmann filed a ULURP application on Tuesday to exclude the neighborhoods from the zoning rule, which allows certain homeowners to apply for a special permit for the expansion of floor-area and 10-foot encroachments into the required 30-foot backyards.

The district adopted the zoning rule 20 years ago to encourage families to stay in the area, rather than moving to other neighborhoods for bigger homes, according to a report issued by the City Planning Commission at the time. The idea was to entice families to “grow in place,” to add a needed room for a new baby or an extra alcove, Councilman Vincent Gentile told The Real Deal. In practice, however, the special permits have drawn developers.

“What has resulted in practice and reality is developers and investors outside this community use this provision to buy property, and the very first thing they would do is apply for a special permit,” he said. “The investors and the developers have abused what was the original intent of this special permit.

Gentile said abuse of the special permit unravels protections against overdevelopment that he and others fought for over a decade ago. In 2005, the City Council approved sprawling down-zoning legislation that expanded the number of blocks in Bay Ridge that are restricted to single and two-family homes.

Renee Dorsa, a lifelong resident and a broker with Dorsa Realty Group, said that she feels that the special permit is actually an important tool for families looking to stay in Bay Ridge. As prices climb in the neighborhood, moving to a bigger house in Bay Ridge is becoming more difficult.

“Pulling the zoning completely inhibits families and forces families to leave,” she said.

Other districts in Brooklyn — areas that include Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Kings Bay, Borough Park, Midwood and Flatbush — are also eligible for the special permit under the zoning rule. The ULURP only seeks to remove the 10th District.


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