On Dec. 18th, the rezoning process moved one step closer to completion when the plan received its second public hearing at Borough Hall in Brooklyn. The night before, Community Board 7 voted in favor of the proposal.
At the hearing, Borough President Marty Markowitz expressed his support for the project, which would protect a living piece of history long gone in other sections of the borough.
Like other neighborhoods in western Brooklyn, the five-block area in East Windsor Terrace bounded by Caton Place, Ocean Parkway and Coney Island Avenue managed to survive the 20th century largely intact. Today, its one and two-storey family homes of brick and wood look much as they did at the turn of the previous century.
What sets this tiny urban slice apart is the district’s defining cultural institution, the Kensington Stables. Located in a narrow brick building on the corner of East 8th Street and Caton Place, it is the last remaining horse stable serving riders in Prospect Park.
During the day tethered horses are groomed outside the stable. The block is one of the few places left in Brooklyn, in an age of high speed trains and electric cars, where pedestrians vie for sidewalk space with horses.
Brooklyn-native Walker Blankinship reopened the stable in 1993. Since then, said Blankinship, the president the stable, it has drawn new people to the area and served as a link to the past for longtime residents.
“A lot of people moved in because of the stable. The area has a living kind of feel with people working in the streets with horses,” said Blankinship. “That same feeling does not come with a lot of big apartment buildings.”
The same year Blankinship opened the stable the city rezoned the larger Ocean Parkway district to minimize development but left out the five-block stable area, said Jeremy Laufer, the District Manager of Community Board 7. This “left the area vulnerable to open development,” Laufer said.
In 2005, after one of the stable’s two buildings was torn down to make way for the still un-finished high rise apartment building on East 8th Street, community residents formed Stable Brooklyn Community Group. The group “formed in response to what we perceived as a haphazard, out-of-scale development that threatened the diversity and livability of our community,” said a leading Stable Brooklyn member named Mandy Harris in a statement.
Even as Stable Brooklyn was organized, the community lost its chalkboard factory and tire shop to new construction. In response, the group produced its own plan for the future development of the neighborhood that recommended down-zoning the area and the building of new horse, bicycle and pedestrian pathways to improve the quality of life for local residents. Stable Brooklyn worked with CB7 and Councilman Bill de Blasio on the development plan.
At the public hearing an official with the Department of Planning said the DOP incorporated many aspects of Stable Brooklyn’s proposal into the rezoning plan it presented to the borough president.
The DOP plan would rezone most of the district to R5B status, which limits buildings height to a maximum of 33 feet. The borough president’s office has 30 days to review the plan before sending it to the DOP for final review. After that, the rezoning proposal moves to the City Council, where, if approved, it would be signed into law.
Laufer, the CB7 district manager, said at this point he is confident the plan would pass, mainly because Councilman de Blasio’s support for the project attracted attention to the isolated community.
“This was not necessarily on the front burner for city planning. Small communities [often] end up getting ignored,” said Laufer. “It was important to have Councilman de Blasio involved from the very beginning.”
In a statement, Councilman de Blasio expressed his ongoing support for the rezoning. “Thanks to the extremely hard work of Stable Brooklyn and Community Board 7, this community will be protected from out of context future development,” said de Blasio. “Stable Brooklyn is a small neighborhood with significant character and charm.”
Perhaps nobody knows this better than the president of Kensington Stables. The day elected officials appeared at Borough Hall to hold their second hearing on the proposed rezoning Blankinship was hard at work as usual. His stable, which rents horses by the hour to riders who take them into Prospect Park, holds around 50 horses from all over the country. Dressed in jeans, rubber boots and a low-slung leather hat, Blankinship moved between the stable and the street, where he supervised the washing of a pony standing on the sidewalk.
During a break, Blankinship said the easy-going stable lends the community its sense of refuge from the chaotic city that surrounds it. “Around here you don’t travel through the streets at the same speed,” Blankinship said, because a horse and rider might appear around any corner. “I’m keeping my fingers cross that the down-zoning goes through.”