City Planning argues that requiring retail from the start could have stymied the area’s growth, though the opposite seems to be true, as it has created an oppressive character on Fourth as uninviting as the auto body shops that predated the apartments. Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander, who represents part of the strip and worked on its rezoning while at the Fifth Avenue Committee, said no one is really to blame for this oversight, though.
“Almost nobody really thought—I don’t remember a single advocate talking about the need for ground floor retail,” Mr. Lander said today. “The consequences of not doing it are plain for everyone to see, but the Park Slope rezoning was really the first rezoning of any significance in the Bloomberg administration. It was missing a lot of things, like affordable housing and streetscape design.”
Now, the department is trying to rectify this problem with yet another rezoning on Fourth Avenue, running from Atlantic Avenue to 24th Street, down near the Greenwood Cemetery. “This new proposal will help ensure the continued transformation of the avenue into a dynamic commercial corridor and provide much needed services to its surrounding communities,” Ms. Burden said in a release.
Three fairly simple proposals are in the works. One would require all new developments to dedicate at least 50 percent of their ground floor to retail uses, with a minimum of blank spaces—columns and walls no wider than 12 feet—and a maximum of transparency, e.g. glass, “to maximize interaction, visibility and pedestrian-oriented environment,” as the department puts it in a brochure. The third provision encourages driveways and curb cuts be located on side streets.
“A couple of buildings certainly speak to the reality that some developers don’t care about their community,” Mr. Lander, the council member, said. “Whether it is their neighbors or even their residents, design doesn’t much matter. It’s building to the lowest common denominator.”
Then again, there are almost no shops lining Manhattan’s Park Avenue, either. Maybe it is just the stench of the Gowanus and the 18-wheelers barreling by that keeps Fourth Avenue from becoming the latest BroBo haven.