Billiards & Auto Parts To Apartments On McGuinness Blvd?
That was the question on everyone’s mind at Wednesday night’s CB1 public hearing. In part, the public hearing was called to discuss the proposed rezoning of a block-long portion of McGuinness Boulevard from a manufacturing zone to a residential zone with a commercial overlay. This stretch of McGuinness between Calyer & Greenpoint is currently home to a gas station, several auto parts stores, Key Foods and Risqué Billiards. The owner/developer of 209-231 McGuinness– landlord to Risqué Billiards and ‘Strauss Discount Auto Parts’- thinks his site’s highest and best use is a new, 140 unit apartment building. Several members of the community certainly disagreed at the hearing.
209-231 McGuinness is currently zoned M1-1 which allows for warehouses, repair shops and other light industrial uses. The proposed re-zoning to R7-A/C2-4 would allow for medium density residential developments with ground floor commercial space. This type of zoning is found along the avenues in the East Village. The residential aspect would be in sync with the Williamsburg/Greenpoint re-zoning of 2005 & 2009 that increased the residential density along major streets such as Union Avenue and McGuinness Blvd. While Greenpoint still has a viable manufacturing sector, which should be protected, the west side of McGuinness Boulevard from Box Street to the BQE has already been entirely re-zoned to residential – except for this one block.
Additional to this rezoning effort is a second proposal by the developer to extend the ‘Inclusionary Housing Program’ to cover his site in order to gain increased development rights in exchange for providing affordable housing (20% of the total units). Some developments with affordable housing have created separate entrances and common spaces for the ‘affordable housing’ tenants. But at the hearing, the developer, who is a long-time Greenpoint resident, stated that he plans for all residents to share the same common spaces, lobby and one entrance. Whether or not these so called ‘affordable units’ are truly affordable is quite another story.
All told, if the rezoning and Inclusionary Housing expansion is approved, the development FAR (floor area ratio) will go from 1.0 to 4.6 allowing for a much larger development. The apartment building is slated to be 155,000 square feet, 8 stories tall with 140 apartments, 90 parking spaces and 23,000 square feet of ground floor retail space. Maybe Risqué Billiards can move back in! The specific unit mix is to be determined, but the owner said they would range from studios to 3 bedrooms. As you can see below, the proposed apartment building is much larger than the residential blocks behind it, but that is the goal of the City Planning Commission – to keep the larger developments on major streets and retain the low-scale character of the more residential side streets.
The community turned out for the hearing, both concerned neighbors and supporters alike. The residential buildings on the corner of Calyer and McGuinness would also be included in this rezoning. Many of the building owners were present and expressed their concerns about construction noise, overloading the sewer system and the structural stability of their houses during construction. They also questioned how the rezoning would affect their properties. Their apartment buildings are currently allowed in the M1-1 zoning because they were built before the zoning was updated in the 1960’s. The proposed rezoning of this block would be a benefit for these buildings because they would go from a ‘non-conforming use’ in a manufacturing zone to being ‘as-of-right’ in a residential zone. This is meaningful because, under the M1 zoning, re-building or expanding their homes is not currently allowed. Other community concerns included how the development would affect traffic on the already busy street and if it would be a strain on the school system. The broad topic of density and scale was only briefly discussed – it did not seem to be a focus of those present.
There were also several community members who supported the project. Among the supporters was Tony Argento, owner of Broadway Stages, which is a large movie and TV production facility in Greenpoint employing roughly 1,500 people. Tony said that his employees regularly ask him about local housing so they can live near their jobs and walk to work. This 140-unit project would certainly help, but not solve, the City’s housing shortage.
Greenpoint is an amazing neighborhood and it’s no surprise that people want to move here. Developers understand this and want to build new housing, though the process and end results often leave much to be desired. Community input on issues such as zoning, density and affordable housing is crucial to getting better results for our neighborhood. So what do you think Greenpointers? Is McGuinness Boulevard the right place for large apartment buildings? Would you live there? What’s affordable?