Sunnyside’s Getting Darker

As development continues along commercial corridors, solar access may become an issue of solar rights if a Sunnyside group holds sway.

Light equity is a new take on an all-too familiar dilemma now brewing on a nexus of construction on Belmont St. A group calling itself The Clear Light Neighborhood Coalition is petitioning builder Green Light Development for setbacks, step-downs and height reductions that will minimize the loss of light in their neighborhood.

The pushback began after the developer presented plans at a neighborhood association meeting for a 65-unit apartment complex between SE 43rd – 45th St. Residents close to the site consider the blockage of sunlight on play areas and gardens a health issue as well as an aesthetic one.

The group’s pushback has resulted in developer Mark Desbrow making adjustments such as notching the top story and moving a community room so the fourth floor deck faces Belmont rather than adjacent neighbors. Desbrow says he also doubled parking stalls and agreed to remove four units on the ground floor of the property to replace with “live/work” spaces that can be leased to retailers or for home offices.

For Amy Brewer, who gathered more than 70 signatures on a petition of revisions, it is not enough. She requests written confirmation of all petition points that include adjustments to the size, scale, orientation, setback, ground and storm water management, abatement of airborne demolition particulates as well as the “light equity” setbacks. She also seeks an impact study about the loss of sunlight on adjacent properties.

Builder Desbrow says reducing the building’s mass to allow more daylight access may not be an option. “Residents may not understand that it’s a complicated site. Part is designated commercial and the rest is R1 (residential). Light equity, solar equity – the very thing that’s important to them – is a challenge for us.”

The split designations limit the density and utility of the units, according to Desbrow, requiring configuration that places larger units in the RI side and smaller units on the commercial side. “The result,” says Desbrow, “is a diversity of sizes that will accommodate a mix of incomes.”

Brewer is unconvinced. “This model is not conducive to building a neighborhood community at all. It’s more like an extended stay courtyard style hotel, yet still unaffordable for our lower income citizens.” Plus, she claims the developer’s promise to provide live/work units will not add the vibrancy Belmont would gain from commercial storefronts.

In an age of big box development, the project’s potential for give and take and compromise seems extraordinary. Both parties want a building the neighborhood can be proud of along Belmont.

“If Green Light creates thoughtful and appropriate development, we neighbors will be there to shake hands with them at the ribbon cutting,”  says Brewer. “This is the outcome that the neighborhood coalition wants.”

It’s an outcome Desbrow seeks too. “As a nearby resident, I want to work collaboratively and meet whenever neighbors have an issue.” MP

Sunnyside’s Getting Darker

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