Ambitious project over Brooklyn rail line heads for political gauntlet

Meir David Tabak and Meyer Lebovitz’s ambitious multifamily project in Borough Park is about to embark on the public review process. But running the neighborhood’s political gauntlet would not be the first government obstacle the development has overcome.

The Brooklyn Yard project, between 14th and 16th avenues and 60th and 62nd streets, includes decking over part of an active rail freight line slated for Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Interborough Express, Curbed reported.

That entails navigating a bewildering array of regulatory obstacles and agency sign-offs, not to mention overcoming design and financing challenges, people involved with the project said. For the project to have reached the starting point in the city’s seven-month public review process, known as Ulurp, is an achievement on its own.

The two developers tend to stay under the radar, and neither has commented publicly on their project in the predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. (Along with Wolfe Landau, Tabak also runs Watermark Capital Group, which is pursuing a megaproject with a partner at 6208 Eighth Avenue.)

The over-the-tracks plan calls for 267 units, 80 of which would be affordable, although that likely depends on the state passing a tax break for rentals to replace the expired 421a.

In addition to the roughly 272,000 square feet of housing, it would have 63,000 square feet of commercial space. Three six-story apartment buildings would be complemented by 11 townhouses and a 10-story commercial building, aligned diagonally over a two-and-a-half block stretch.

The developers purchased the land for $4.2 million in 2019, four years after hiring Jay Valgora’s Studio V to design the development.

The design is arguably the trickiest part of the project, as a sunken railroad and jet-fuel pipeline winds through the neighborhood. About once a day, a freight train rumbles through. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority requires a certain amount of clearance above the tracks and other measures to keep Hochul’s proposed light-rail line from Bay Ridge to Jackson Heights feasible.

Rather than deal with the cost and religious complications of elevators, the structural support needed for a high-rise over railroad tracks, and neighborhood opposition to towers, the design team chose to build relatively short buildings.

The public review will be where the rubber meets the railroad. Borough Park’s need for housing is acute, as high birth rates and a steady flow of migration have made for an incredibly tight market in the neighborhood, where the poverty rate is high.

Yet attempts to add housing have faced fierce resistance. In March, a developer withdrew an eight-story affordable housing proposal days before the City Council was expected to vote against it in deference to the local Council member, who agreed with the community board that anything above five stories was too tall.

Holden Walter-Warner

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