2008-03-26 / Features

No Easy Solution Seen For Dutch Kills Zoning Problems

Zoning as proposed by City Planning, reduces the floor-area ratio of many manufacturers in Dutch Kills from 5 FAR to 2 FAR, meaning that many of them are effectively prevented from expanding their businesses once the new zoning plan is final.
BY THOMAS COGAN

Eric Palatnik, a land use lawyer who has several clients among the owners of light manufacturing companies in Dutch Kills, requested an appearance before the March meeting of the Dutch Kills Civic Association (DKCA) to deliver a fuller explanation of the remarks he made at the February meeting. In February, he had said that the zoning plan drawn up for the neighborhood by the Department of City Planning, after long consultation with the DKCA and local residents, was wrongheaded and injurious to the local light manufacturers, particularly since it down zoned much of their territory, ostensibly for the benefit of Dutch Kills residents but actually, he believes, to the detriment of all. The riot of hotel building currently proceeding in Dutch Kills can be traced to the shortsightedness of the decision, he added.

It was obvious from the start that many Dutch Kills residents considered his viewpoint outrageous. Palatnik, however, did not appear dismayed by his audience's noisy reaction. His address was supplemented by multi-shaded illustrations of Dutch Kills according to his own zoning plan- an elaborate counterplan to match City Planning's- but he ultimately offered to scrap what he'd constructed and come up with an entirely new plan if only manufacturers and residents could agree on one that would be in both their interests. "It behooves us to work together," he said.

Put simply, zoning as proposed by City Planning, reduces the floor-area ratio of many manufacturers in Dutch Kills from 5 FAR to 2 FAR, meaning that many of them are effectively prevented from expanding their businesses once the new zoning plan is final. Several at the meeting said they had expansion in mind, and without the possibility of it they would have to go elsewhere or out of business. One manufacturer who stated his case was Bob See of See Factor, which mounts lighting and sound projects for customers such as Madison Square Garden. He currently has three floors and employs 35 in his building at 37-11 30th St., a place for which he used a colorful term to describe the poor shape it was in when he started out there in 1971. Having made it a viable facility, he wants to expand to four times the ground floor space and establish sufficient parking. The residents in the zoning dispute have often charged, and charged again at the March meeting, that area manufacturers have had decades to expand their facilities (current zoning has been in effect since 1961) yet have declined to do so. See responded by saying he has grown as much as he has been able to grow and now needs time to expand as he has proposed to do. If 5 FAR or something comparable became unavailable to him, should the new plan's down zoning go into effect, he'd have to move. He said that if he went to, say, New Jersey, most of his work force, the greater number of which lives within a few miles of See Factor, would probably have to be let go. He said that the right plan for manufacturers and residents should be worked out through a coalition.

Palatnik has often stated that Dutch Kills, which he says is located within a few minutes of Midtown Manhattan, cannot retain its streets full of two- and three-story homes, as if it were Bayside, 15 or more miles distant, or as if it were still an isolated and unknown area such as it was decades ago. The hotel invasion is proof enough that Dutch Kills has been discovered. He has said that local residents' desire to keep it a small town of sorts is absurd. He brought an associate to the meeting, Hiram Rothkrug, director of a Long Island firm, Environmental Project Data Statements Co. Rothkrug made a study of the area and concluded that if the proposed Dutch Kills rezoning were to be approved, there would be a net loss of about 650,000 square feet of industrial space and more than 1,600 jobs, and about $5.5 million in annual industrial tax revenues would be lost to the city. Industrial retention in Dutch Kills should be the first priority, but industry's legs are being cut off by the rezoning plan, Palatnik believes.

The fury of the residents is generated mainly by the rise of hotels, which have been built under 5 FAR conditions in order to beat the new 2 FAR zoning before it takes effect. Just how many hotels will be built is uncertain, but in the midst of anxious uncertainty, rumor pushes numbers up, even as high as three dozen. The nearly completed building at 39th Avenue and 29th Street may stand as a model for all those built or unbuilt. Though not 15 stories high, it soars Empire State-like, given its low-level surroundings. Palatnik said he is trying to tell the residents that a middle way must be sought or Dutch Kills will have not only hotels but also a deteriorated industrial base, amidst which the residential base is not likely to survive.

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