Controversial project replacing Brooklyn McDonald’s poised for approval

11th-hour deal grants developer more apartments, Prospect Heights more affordability

Controversial project replacing Brooklyn McDonald’s poised for approval
840 Atlantic Ave and Council member Laurie Cumbo (Google Maps, NYC Council)

Ba-da-ba-ba-ba: She’s lovin’ it.

City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo has struck a deal with developers to rezone a Prospect Heights McDonald’s, paving the way for a 270-unit apartment building in a spot long-coveted for its redevelopment potential.

On Friday morning, the Council’s zoning subcommittee unanimously approved an amended rezoning proposal for 840 Atlantic Avenue, at the corner of Vanderbilt Avenue, setting up passage by the full Council Monday.

The neighborhood’s community board had approved a lower-density version of the rezoning that threatened the financial viability of the project. The new version, which adds several community benefits and more apartments, was crafted by project developer Vanderbilt Atlantic Holdings and the community board’s land use committee.

“840 Atlantic Avenue presents a rare opportunity to secure truly affordable housing and an affordable long-term home for the beloved local arts organization and job generating commercial space on a site that is currently home only to a parking lot and fast food restaurant,” said Cumbo in a statement read Friday by Council member Francisco Moya.

With Cumbo’s support, the new plan is assured of approval by the chamber under its tradition of member deference.

The new plan differs from the old in several key ways. The building can reach 19 stories tall for most of its frontage along Atlantic Avenue, with a dropoff to 17 stories meant to assuage concerns about precedent. The average floor-area ratio will be between 7.6 and 8.1, depending on which of two slightly different alternative plans makes it through the Council.

The developer and community board also signed a community benefits agreement requiring the building to set aside 50,000 square feet for non-residential use and 8,000 square feet for a permanent arts center.

The building will be 293,000 to 314,000 square feet, depending on how the Council zones a portion of the building along Pacific Street.

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Vanderbilt Atlantic will opt for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing option three, capping rents for 20 percent of the units at 40 percent of the area median income. For a family of three, that is $42,960 per year. Half of the 54 affordable units will be reserved for local residents.

The community board previously approved a version of the rezoning that would have capped the building at 224,000 square feet with a FAR of just 5.8, both significant reductions from the original and new proposals.

An 11th-hour agreement is not unusual in city rezonings, which are marked by strict deadlines, but this one was in that it faced pushback from the very community board that negotiated it.

On Sept. 2, the community board’s land use committee passed the new plan, 17-3. Yet, on Thursday, the full board voted only 14-8 with eight abstentions. Without a majority of yes votes, the measure failed.

The meeting turned contentious at times, with State Sen. Jabari Brisport accusing developments like 840 Atlantic of “bleeding out black people from the community.”

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One abstaining member complained she did not have enough information to vote, despite land use committee members’ presentation of the plans.

“VAH has come a long way towards the sunlight on this project,” said Ethel Tyus, the land use committee’s chair, who voted in favor of the new rezoning.

The board’s opinion is advisory, but Cumbo had previously said she would only support a plan with the board’s backing. But she apparently considered its land use committee’s support sufficient.

Little is known about Vanderbilt Atlantic Holdings, the project’s developer. Sam Rottenberg and Tom Li run it. Simon Dushinsky, a principal at Rabsky Group, signed a 99-year lease for the property in 2017. The documents list Dushinsky as a member of the development entity, but a spokesman for Dushinsky told journalist Norman Oder that he’s a passive investor, not the project lead.