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Zoning Plan to 'Save' Half a Brooklyn Block Moves Ahead

 Homeowners on Fenimore Street are hoping to shield 21 lots from future development on their block between Bedford and Rogers avenues in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
Homeowners on Fenimore Street are hoping to shield 21 lots from future development on their block between Bedford and Rogers avenues in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS — A group of local homeowners wants to protect its Fenimore Street block from future development by changing land use rules on 21 lots there.

Prospect-Lefferts Gardens residents on the south side of Fenimore Street between Bedford and Rogers avenues have been working for months to gather evidence to prove their half of the block — composed of mostly freestanding Victorian and early 20th Century homes — deserves the same zoning protections as Lefferts Manor, the longstanding single-family historic district located across the street.

The Fenimore Street Block Association's case rests on evidence from history (including deed restrictions, antique maps and even Lefferts Manor yearbooks) proving the south side of Fenimore Street should have been included in the original Lefferts Manor development and, therefore, should receive the same zoning as the historic district.

They presented their findings to Brooklyn Community Board 9 last week through preservation consultant Paul Graziano, who formally asked the board to be a co-applicant on the group’s yet-to-be-submitted proposal to the Department of City Planning.

“I was brought in because of concerns … that there was a lot of real estate development going on in Community Board 9,” Graziano said to the board at the Nov. 22 meeting. “These folks came to me specifically asking what could be done to protect their block.”

► READ: 9 Buildings Planned on Prospect-Lefferts Side Streets This Year (MAP)

In short, the group is aiming to convince the city that the block’s current R-6 zoning rules — which allows for the construction of residential buildings up to 13 stories tall, given a large enough lot — should be “down-zoned” to R-2, which allows for single-family, detached residential homes only.

“It’s very important to understand that this is essentially a mistake of history,” Graziano said. Speaking to DNAinfo New York after the meeting, he said the application — co-signed by 20 out of 21 property owners on the block — is a “no-brainer.”

“It shouldn’t be complicated or controversial,” he said.

But rezoning in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and Crown Heights has been a contentious topic within CB9 in recent years, resulting in protests, arrests and board resignations stemming from a request by the board to City Planning to begin a study of changing land use rules in the district.

That controversy was on the mind’s of many at last week’s meeting, including those who spoke publicly about their concerns with the proposal. In particular, several attendees said they feared the Fenimore Street proposal, though small in scope, could open the door for the city to “upzone” the rest of the neighborhood — making it possible for larger, denser buildings to be built everywhere.

“This could constitute a backdoor into CB9 for the Department of City Planning,” said Crown Heights resident Janine Nichols, an ally of the activist group Movement to Protect the People, formed in 2014 in opposition to the board’s attempts to start a zoning study.

Graziano, the Fenimore Street residents and CB9’s land use committee chair Michael Liburd all strongly refuted her claim.

“The whole notion that we’re going to use this opportunity to rezone the area is just not true,” Liburd said. “On my watch, that’s not going to happen.”

Longtime Fenimore Street homeowner Edna Moshette asked those opposed to the proposal to “keep it civil.”

“Let’s disagree, but we have a lot to save here. We are trying to preserve the community, not destroy the community,” she said.

After a nearly three-hour meeting, CB9 voted narrowly to become a co-applicant on the Fenimore Street proposal, with 20 members voting yes and 17 either voting no (eight votes) or abstaining (nine votes). (In the case that two more members had voted no or abstained, the vote would have failed due to the fact that, according to parliamentary procedure, abstentions count as "no" votes if they outnumber the total number of yes votes.)

Moving forward, Graziano said the group will meet with CB9 to go over the logistics of submitting their application over the next few months, then take it to the city for approval — or not, he said.

“It’s all dependent on whether City Planning decides to play ball or throws up roadblocks,” he said.

The Department of City Planning said it will review the application from Fenimore Street when it receives it. If it is deemed complete, the agency will move the proposal into the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a public process by which the mayor and local representatives approve or reject zoning changes.

Since the rezoning controversy in CB9 during 2014 and 2015, the city has not touched the topic of land use changes in the neighborhood overall.

Following more than a year of protests, the board officially requested in May 2015 that City Planning begin studying zoning changes in the area, but since then, the agency has not taken steps to move forward with the plan.