Community Board 5 often votes in unison when it comes to controversial issues like Maspeth’s Knockdown Center or the proposed homeless shelter in Glendale.
That wasn’t the case last Wednesday.
After hearing from a handful of residents during the public forum, the board voted 28-11 in favor of rezoning a small portion of Woodward Avenue in Ridgewood from manufacturing to residential to allow for two apartment buildings to be constructed at 176 Woodward Ave. and 1901 Starr St., respectively.
The site where the three- to four-story 88-unit building at 176 Woodward Ave. would sit is primarily an unused lot containing construction materials, and many neighbors in favor of rezoning have testified that prostitution often occurs in the immediate area.
Land Use Committee member Paul Kerzner gave a detailed presentation in opposition of rezoning and area business official Ted Renz asked the board to “think about” their policy of supporting business, but they were unable to sway the vote.
In Land Use Committee Chairman Walter Sanchez’s report to the board supporting the resolution, he explained how area residents’ support of the plan was enough for the committee to vote 4-2 in favor of rezoning and advise the same for the full board.
“We had overwhelming support from the neighbors again. We had letters, we had petitions,” Sanchez said. “Many neighbors testified that the current conditions at this property were not good for the neighborhood and this development is not only preferred, but necessary to live in the area.”
The proposed mixed-use structure will be made up of 80,198 square feet of residential space, 6,707 square feet of retail space and 3,115 square feet of community space, according to its designer, Aufgang Architects.
A four-story, eight-dwelling building is planned for the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Starr Street, as well.
Some amenities planned for the larger building include a dog-walking space on the roof and parking for up to 118 vehicles, with 107 spaces located underneath the building and 11 at street level.
In a 12-minute speech, Kerzner admitted to the board that “nobody” likes the nearly vacant lot as it stands today and that it’s in desperate need of remodeling, but he vehemently disagreed that rezoning was the proper way of going about it.
“For the 43 years that I’ve been on this board, the policy has been ‘Do not take any manufacturing property out of manufacturing,’” Kerzer said. “By granting this proposal tonight, what you’re doing is turning down 44 years of policy. ... I don’t know how you’re going to put the genie back in the bottle, because you won’t.”
Kerzner argued the plot of land, instead of being rezoned from M1-1 to R5B and R6B as planned, should be given a special MX zoning designation because of the close proximity of residential and manufacturing establishments in the area.
Established in 1997, MX zoning, most often seen in Brooklyn, allows for housing above manufacturing.
Kerzner also argued that he recently met with the owner of an Ozone Park knitting factory who expressed interest in moving his business, which employs around 250 people, to the Ridgewood site due to high rent where he is.
The longtime CB 5 member noted how the business owner told him he would buy the bottom two floors of a building constructed at the site and relocate his factory there.
Additionally, Kerzner proposed the floors above would become either condominiums or co-ops, financed partially by the knitting factory owner.
However, Tom Smith, a Department of City Planning official assigned to be CB 5’s advisor on the rezoning matter, said such a special designation would be nearly impossible at the site.
“I’m not sure how long it would take to actually create the zoning district that would allow for mandatory manufacturing with residential above. It does not currently exist,” Smith said. “Where the residential units above would need to be condos or condominiums [in Kerzner’s plan], I think it would be nearly impossible for us to compel that through zoning.”
Before the vote, Renz, one of the board’s top leaders and the executive director of both the Ridgewood Local Development Corp. and the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, urged his fellow members to think about CB 5’s past decisions.
“This board has a long history of supporting its committees, but there are times we have to take a minority position,” Renz said. “I believe this is one of those times.”
Residents who were thrilled to see a residential building possibly rise from the unsightly lot included Dan Russo of Starr Street and Joe Pergolese of Troutman Street.
Both men spoke at last month’s board meeting in favor of the proposed Aufgang Architects building and the story was the same last week.
“If this doesn’t go through, that means we’ll go back to the trucks, the exhaust and the condoms in the morning from the prostitution,” Russo said. “We’re just tired of it.”
“The M1-1 zoning in my area is not working. It’s time for a change,” Pergolese added. “Williamsburg is growing, Bushwick is booming. And a lot of these people are coming from the city and are coming to us and we need to bring them in.”