Leroy Comrie: The Sheriff of Land Use

What about the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg? I imagine that massive residential project will prompt some controversy over the coming months?

The Dominos project is coming up later this month, which will be contentious. But it’s been something that’s been planned for a while. I think part of it is that an area that has now become a desired area for housing, an area that got rezoned, and now having opened up the Brooklyn waterfront, there’s a desire for development in that area. That’s versus the concerns of segments of the community that it may get overdeveloped and change the character of the existing community.

 

The city recently celebrated its 101st zoning initiative since 2002. Is that something that you’re particularly proud of, or do you believe it’s excessive?

When we first got in the Council, we pushed to fund City Planning so that they could increase their staff to keep up with the need of doing all the rezonings that are being requested by civic groups and community boards. A lot of the zonings that are in place are outdated and not applicable to even the existing housing stock.

You have areas like Astoria, which we just rezoned. The zoning was totally out of context with the reality of the neighborhood-it allowed for people to build properties that were totally out of context with what was in character with the rest of the block. But because the zoning was so badly done back in the ’60s, people were sticking R-6 buildings on lots that had never built higher than R-4; and, so, you had a building next to a small home that was totally out of character. So there’s truly a need to clean up a lot of the bad-I don’t want to say bad zoning-but old zoning issues.

 

Among the few city land-use issues that, in one way or another, managed to avoid City Council scrutiny-say, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn or aspects of ground zero-are there any that, had you been the land-use chairman at the time, you would’ve liked to have had come before the committee for review?

Those things happened before I was chair, but I definitely want the Council to be involved in every project. I think Atlantic Yards and ground zero should’ve come before the Council, definitely. I think the Council is the most transparent and open process. Those processes were not open, and I think the public is still upset about the outcome of both of those projects, only because they didn’t have the full opportunity to air their grievances.

The Council is a democratic party, a transparent body. We have a responsibility to make sure that anybody who comes before the Council has an opportunity to air all of the aspects of a project so that at the end of the day the residents can know exactly the pros and cons and why we came to the decisions we’ve made after hearing those pros and cons.

 

Do you consider yourself pro-development?

I’m a pro-city person; I’m not pro-development. I’m a pro-New York City person. At the end of the day, we want the city to be a viable, desirable place for people to live.

jsederstrom@observer.com