Community Board Rejects Eighth Avenue Permit Renewal, But What Community Does It Represent?

6208 Eighth Avenue, rendering by Raymond Chan Architect6208 Eighth Avenue, rendering by Raymond Chan Architect

Last month, Community Board 10, representing the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, voted to reject the renewal of a special permit allowing 6208 Eighth Avenue – a large mixed-use project at Eighth Avenue and 62nd Street, on the border between Dyker Heights and Sunset Park – to move forward. The board’s move is purely advisory, and the City Planning Commission will have the final say, but the vote hints at the tension that may soon emerge over development between neighborhood old-timers who dominate the community board, and the area’s growing and generally more pro-development Chinese community.

The land was rezoned in 2007, from an industrial designation to a higher-density commercial and residential one, for a project that never got off the ground. The site was sold, and now a group of developers led by Flushing-based architect Raymond Chan has unveiled a new plan for the site, involving a series of towers holding a hotel, apartments, offices, and retail space. The special permit is required because of the site’s adjacency to an open rail cut, and the community board did not feel comfortable renewing the permit, they said, given the dearth of information and discussion about the revised development proposal.

The project would be at home in downtown Flushing, which saw one large rezoning in 1998 and a series of private rezonings since then, and is one of the most pro-development outlying neighborhoods in the city.

But it would be a big change for Sunset Park, which is similar to Flushing in that it’s emerged as the epicenter of its borough’s Chinese community, but differs in that it’s seen very little redevelopment compared to its counterpart in Queens.

And, perhaps not coincidentally, the political establishments in Sunset Park and surrounding neighborhoods have not yet caught up to its population in terms of Asian representation.

Community boards in particular have come under fire in some quarters for not accurately reflecting changing demographics in neighborhoods in transition. Boards on the city’s fringe, in particular, tend to be dominated by the dwindling numbers of long-time white homeowners, with less representation from incoming immigrant groups.

Community Board 10, which rejected the special permit renewal, is no exception. According to the 2010 Census, the neighborhoods of Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge, which are roughly coterminous with Brooklyn’s Community District 10, were 20 percent Asian, with 15 percent of residents declaring Chinese heritage. (In fact, these numbers may underestimate the size of the Chinese community, as the 2010 Census was accused by many of undercounting immigrant numbers. And given that the number of Asians in Dyker Heights nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, it’s likely that it’s increased since 2010 as well.)

And the project is actually on the edge of Community District 10. To the north lies the city-designated neighborhood of Sunset Park East, which was half Asian according to the 2010 Census.

“We spoke to a few people in the Sunset Park area and with the community board people,” Raymond Chan told YIMBY, “and in general they do support the development.”

“Even though Sunset Park is not in this community district,” he said, “they would actually get affected the most. So we do want them to get involved and have a say.”

But of Community Board 10’s 49 members, only two are of Chinese descent.

“Certainly we welcome Asian representation,” District Manager Josephine Beckmann told YIMBY. “We have many members who work very closely with the Asian community,” she said, citing especially Jaynemarie Capetanakis, principal at nearby P.S. 69 elementary school, which has a large number of Chinese students.

“We’ve had many Asian members on the board who have not been able to stay on,” Beckmann continued, citing the time commitment that goes along with the unpaid community board positions. “Would I like to see more? Certainly I would like to see people get more active.”

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