Following last Thursday’s Community Board 11 meeting, where a crucial vote took place to approve the rezoning proposal for portions of Gravesend and Bensonhurst offered by the Department of City Planning, Assemblymember William Colton (D-Brooklyn), who for years has been leading the charge to reform the zoning classification in Southern Brooklyn to better coordinate development with a neighborhood’s character, is reinforcing his call for stricter enforcement on all new development.
"What is a zoning change worth when there is little to no oversight over what is being constructed in our community?" asked Colton. The state lawmaker points to the severe shortage of residential building inspectors in Brooklyn that exacerbate the problems of careless and dangerous overdevelopment. "If there are only a little over a dozen residential building inspectors in a borough of over two million people, then we have a grave building safety inspection deficit," Colton went on to say.
The legislator also pointed to Community Board 11’s first budget priority request asking for additional building inspectors. "On too many occasions, developers do not have demolition permits when they tear down a one or two family home to replace it with a multi-dwelling development," charged Colton. "We need to begin seeing the city administration along with the City Council apply additional resources to the Buildings Department to makeup for this safety shortfall," he added.
Recently Colton, along with the Quality of Life Committee (QOLC), a civic group based in Gravesend and Bensonhurst, called upon the city administration to undertake a three-pronged approach to curb careless and dangerous overdevelopment.
Firstly, through the creation of a Brooklyn Growth Management Task Force, comprised of various city agencies and community groups, all requested residential building permits would undergo a strict scrutiny under the law to ensure the safety and well being of the adjacent community. Similar to the task force initiated on Staten Island, the City Planning Department, Buildings Department, Department of Transportation, and various civic organizations would be key parties included in such an oversight committee.
Secondly, both Colton and the QOLC called upon the city administration, as well as the New York City Council, to significantly increase the number of well-qualified and well-trained residential building inspectors by applying additional resources to the Buildings Department in order to reverse the lopsided ratio between countless developments throughout Brooklyn and the scarce current number of inspectors.
Thirdly, by stiffening the penalties for developers who deviate from building safety codes, Colton and the QOLC believe that may play a larger deterrent than the current inadequate fine of approximately $1,500 for demolishing a property without a proper permit. "How are we supposed to keep developers in check with only a $1,500 fine for putting a neighborhood’s safety at risk by demolishing property without a permit when most of them are multi-millionaires?" asked Colton.
In addition to building code enforcement, Colton, in a letter to Regina Myer, the Brooklyn Director of the Department of City Planning, stressed the need for additional parking requirements proportionate to each multi-dwelling development. "Pretty soon people will either park a mile from their homes or park on sidewalks if nothing is done to address the severe parking shortage many of us are facing here in Brooklyn," charged the lawmaker.
The Assemblymember plans to continue to reach out to various civic groups in order to pressure the Department of City Planning to build from their success in rezoning portions of Gravesend and Bensonhurst to then immediately propose zoning changes for neighborhoods left out of the recent zoning changes. In addition to expanding sensible zoning coverage, Colton is urging the Department of City Planning to include a stronger parking requirement as was done recently in Staten Island.
Colton’s proposed Brooklyn Growth Management Task Force could play a key role in overseeing and implementing the proposed initiatives. From increasing building inspectors to making zoning amendments requiring additional parking spaces, such an oversight committee may prove to be crucial in ensuring safe and sensible development throughout Brooklyn.