Updated: March 7, 2020, 8:54 p.m.
Overcrowded public schools, jammed traffic circles, flooded streets—these are the problems residents of Windsor Terrace say they face, too many for them to welcome a 13-story luxury building to their neighborhood with open arms.
A proposed mixed-use complex at 312 Coney Island Avenue has enraged residents of the area. But last Wednesday they won their first victory on the way to stopping the project when Community Board 7 voted against a rezoning proposal that would have allowed the developer to construct the tower. Community Board 7 recommended the developer seek a lower capacity zoning change instead of the one they applied for.
The site, owned by the International Baptist Church and leased to JEMB Realty for 99 years, is currently zoned for commercial use and is now home to a four-story brick building that hosts the church and its affiliated school. JEMB Realty wanted the site rezoned so that it would allow them to build a luxury mixed-use building, which includes 232 luxury apartments, 78 affordable housing units, space for the church and the school, retail space, and additional community facilities.
While Windsor Terrace residents are eager for more affordable housing units, many are concerned about the out-of-scale building development that they feel is ruining the neighborhood’s small-town atmosphere and adding more pressure to local public schools and community infrastructures. Projections for the planned JEMB development would have brought 872 new residents to the neighborhood that would need access to more schools and parking spaces, things that residents say the neighborhood already lacks.
“It would be illogical to think that nothing will be there,” said Alicia Howard, who lives next to the development site. However, she argued the new building “should be planned properly and in harmony with the neighborhoods.”
The City Council this past week also turned down a proposal to rezone a famous Harlem apartment complex, Lenox Terrace. Residents worried that the planned luxury housing tower would destroy the character of the neighborhood. Windsor Terrace opponents raised more concrete issues: school seats, traffic, and flooding.
Overcrowded schools is already a problem, even without the new project. According to a 250-page environmental assessment statement submitted as a part of the developer’s application, the corresponding primary school district is already utilizing 114 percent of its availabilities. It needs 2,391 more seats just to meet current needs.
A new building at 57 Caton Place, right next to the proposed site, will bring 300 more residents and with it a demand for more school seats is also coming, says Sergio Vieira, a resident.
The enrollment pressure would only get worse if the Windsor Terrace development project goes ahead, say residents, and no additional educational resources were allocated to the district.
“We cannot look at each building individually,” Vieira said in the community board meeting. “You have to look at all these together, all together.”
Heavy traffic has also long been a problem for the area. The proposed development site is on the edge of Machate Circle, a busy traffic circle on the southmost corner of Prospect Park, right off the highway entrance.
“For those of us who work from home, we hear the car rage on the horns for at least a couple of hours,” said one resident during the open community board meeting. She told the board that she found the congestion around Machate Circle horrific. “We don’t have to worry about [the traffic] coming to the neighborhood. It’s already here,” she said.
At the meeting, residents brought up concerns about flooded streets, construction trash removal, and changes to the neighborhood’s socioeconomic dynamic. The community board voted to ask JEMB Realty to conduct further studies to address the above issues.
A new building may go up, regardless, despite the board’s most recent recommendation. Under the current zoning, JEMB Realty has the right to build a different structure if the rezoning proposal does not pass. Its plan B: a 17-story hotel. The hotel will still have space allocated to the existing church and school, but will not offer any affordable housing. Residents are upset about that plan too.
“The hotel is a scare tactic to get the zoning changed,” Suzanne Zuckerman Werner wrote in a Facebook group discussion. She found the hotel will cause safety concerns for the school kids. “Not sure why the church would agree to have a hotel in the same building as their school.”
It’s unclear if the developer will move forward with the hotel after the community board’s disapproval of the rezoning amendment, according to Zachary Bernstein, a partner of Fried Frank, a World Trade Center-located law firm representing the developer.
“It’s a very long process,” Bernstein said.
Meanwhile, tension continues to brew with many residents arguing that the developer is skewing the facts. According to Mark Duffin, a resident of Ocean Parkway, JEMB Realty has said in its presentation that the building will have a total of 278 units, but the zoning application states it will contain 310 units, a discrepancy which may be to the developer’s advantage. With 278 units, the impacted area only covers a quarter of a mile when conducting socioeconomic impact research. But the range widens to half a mile with 310 apartments, so the anticipated increased population in the new development will fall under a threshold that requires further actions from the developer, according to Duffin.
Emails requesting comments were forwarded to the JEMB Realty’s New York office, but it has not replied as of 8 p.m. Saturday.
The City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on April 1st before deciding on the currently proposed amendment.