Zoning Hurdles for Brooklyn’s Tech Dreams

Bookmark and Share

A warehouse at 29 Ryerson St. near the Brooklyn Navy Yard could soon become a symbol for a new tech scene in Brooklyn.

The $137 per square foot price paid in August – totaling $26 million – was a nearly twofold increase over the price paid in December for a warehouse on nearby Waverly Avenue. The sale showed the newfound market potential in the so-called Brooklyn Tech Triangle – the area between the Navy Yard, DUMBO and Downtown Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Tech Triangle, an urban planning project designed to bring more than a million square feet of office space and at least 20,000 tech jobs to the area by 2015, is a wildly ambitious attempt to steer public resources and private interest in a new direction. But the scope of the project, and the sheer number of initiatives involved, makes the complete realization of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle unlikely, at least anytime soon.

“It’s going to take building a significant coalition of support,” said Alexandria Sica, executive director of the DUMBO Business Improvement District. “There will be approvals and approvals that will have to come on line.”

The hundreds of initiatives in the Triangle’s Strategic Plan range from the doable – like the extending the B67 bus from Downtown Brooklyn to the Navy Yard, which the MTA completed in September – to the fanciful – like a tethered balloon providing sightseers with views from above the Brooklyn Bridge.

Most significantly, the project depends on the rezoning of millions of square feet of real estate, as well as increases to public transportation in the area and convincing landlords to accept the lower rental rates for office space than they could fetch for residential.

Many of the buildings the Triangle coalition has set its sights on – like 29 Ryerson – are zoned for manufacturing, and developers will have to get them rezoned individually as commercial to rent them out as office space. Filing the necessary paperwork and negotiating the city’s onerous zoning process, known as ULURP, is costly and time consuming, especially for the hundreds of properties in question.
City fees alone to rezone 29 Ryerson could top $60,000.

To avoid the mass of individual rezonings, the coalition’s Strategic Plan calls for the creation of a Brooklyn Special Innovation District, a four-block set of derelict warehouses between Flushing and Park Avenues. 29 Ryerson is within this area. The District would require a new zoning framework from the Department of City Planning – essentially residential zoning with a required percentage set aside for commercial use.

Robert Perris, district manager of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, which encompasses the Tech Triangle, questioned the likelihood of rezoning the Special Innovation District because members of the Board want to keep the area open for future manufacturing.

“I think that is one of the more difficult initiatives to achieve,” he said. “Community Board 2 has never been receptive to housing in the area between Flushing and Park.”

Ms. Sica said that landlords in the area have been holding onto buildings zoned for manufacturing, waiting for residential zoning to boost their revenue. The coalition wants the city to give property holders the incentive to open the space up for commercial development as well.

Residential rental asking rates in Brooklyn were $37.12 per square foot in August, according to data from Elliman Real Estate, up 7 percent over last year. Commercial rates were $32.12 for the second quarter this year, according to data from Newmark Grubb Knight Frank.

Ms. Sica said the coalition was in talks with the DCP on developing the new zoning framework. DCP did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite the voluminous challenges to the project, Mr. Perris said that the Strategic Plan provides a wide enough variety to ensure that development will be made. “We’re not going to accomplish everything in here,” he said. “But [we] probably don’t need to accomplish everything for it to be considered a success.”

Author: Nicholas Wells

Share This Post On