Kids once played on Banner Avenue between East 11th and East 12th streets, but now along the north side, a string of green and white real estate signs swing in the wind and mark houses that sit empty, home only to rats and cockroaches. Broker Jeanne Rakowski of Sure Sale Realty at 1107 Avenue U has been selling the properties to a developer who plans to build condominiums, like the two seven-story ones built last year on neighboring Guider Avenue, replacing one- and two-family homes. Rakowski said the developers would probably start to build the condominiums in the next year and a half. In the middle of this strip live Ernie and Annette Nardi, who refused to sell to the developer. And they are not happy. I am the holdout, and its my future at stake, Ernie said. He said the developer started paying families $450,000 for their homes, but a recent property sold for $720,000. The Nardis are still not selling, even at that price. I have lived in this part of Brooklyn all my life, said Ernie, a broadcast engineer who works nights at Madison Square Garden and has resided at 1135 Banner Avenue since September 1985. I am near my doctor and my dentist. My favorite Italian restaurant is on Avenue U. There is no reason why I should move. Ernie said the empty houses are a sanitation and security hazard. He has rigged up his home with eight security cameras, which recorded two youths leaving an empty property near their house one night. Many of the former owners left gas, electricity and water on, and the new owners have not disconnected these utilities, he said. Pipes burst two doors down at 1129 Banner Avenue during Januarys frigid temperatures, flooding his and the neighboring basement, he said. There is still furniture, soda and bread in the houses where the owners just left, said Annette. Stuffed trash bags and an old appliance lie in the backyard of one of the empty properties on the corner of Banner Avenue and East 12th Street. If a city Sanitation Department inspector stands on the sidewalk and sees garbage stored in an areaway, its illegal and the inspector will cite the owner if notified of the problem, a spokesman from the Department of Sanitation said. The Health Department and Fire Department are responsible for inspecting the inside of properties and backyards. Farther down at 1119 Banner Avenue, beyond five empty homes, siblings Michael Davidson 22, and Alicia Davidson 20, are looking after the house for their parents, which they sold before moving to Florida. I dont think they should have done it at all, Michael said, referring to the developers. Its not good for us and now this place is overrun by rats. Its not doing much except change the way it looks around here. Alicia said breaking up the community was harder on the younger folk. We knew everybody on this block, said Alicia, who now wants to move to Staten Island. Its a big deal for this generation. Michael doesnt look forward to moving to his new home in West Babylon, Long Island. I like Brooklyn, Im not like a Long Island person, he said. Most locals wont benefit from the new condominiums, according to City Councilmember Michael C. Nelsons office. They should not have to worry about condominiums, which wont necessarily be affordable to all those who live in the area, said Robert Varley, deputy chief of staff for Nelson. Construction has started for five-story condominiums at 1128 Blake Court, behind Banner Avenue. Two new seven-story condominiums were built last year on Guider Avenue. One- and two-story homes, belonging to owners who decided not to sell, are now sandwiched between them. And excavations have started on the corner of Guider Avenue and East 13th Street for another condominium. Weve got a mini Grand Canyon on Guider Avenue, said Ernie, who joined protests last year against the new developments. In our opinion, its not pleasing to see one- and two-story family homes surrounded by six- and seven-story, 18- to 24-unit condo buildings on either side, said Ben Akselrod, district manager of Community Board 15. Local politicians and the community board have been working to get the area rezoned to stop the rash of condominiums. Akselrod said he has been meeting with City Planning and they are very receptive. The best offer I have received was to start rezoning in July, said Akselrod, who said that City Planning is busy with another downzoning in the Bensonhurst-Gravesend area, which has been in public review since February 14. Akselrod said he has requested City Planning to come up with a rezoning proposal. I am not qualified to tell the City Planning professionals exactly what is appropriate for this area, Akselrod said. We just want to preserve the character of the neighborhood. Nelson has also been working as a member of the Councils land use committee since last year to get the area downzoned, Varley said. We are against the uglification of the neighborhood. It loses all the charm. These single- and two-family homes where we live really offer a nice place to grow up and a nice place to stay, Varley said. The area between East 11th and East 12th is something we will look at immediately. The Department of City Plannings application under Sections 197C and 201 of the New York City Charter for the rezoning of 120 blocks of the Bensonhurst-Gravesend neighborhood bounded by Bay Parkway, 61st Street, McDonald Avenue, Avenue U and Stillwell Avenue has parallels with this area. Once dominated by single-family homes, condominiums have started to spring up. The rezoning in Community Board 11 was just endorsed in a memo by Judd Schechtman, Land Use Specialist from Borough President Marty Markowitzs office. The proposal will rezone many blocks from R6, which allows developers to build big-box condos, to R5 and R4. R5 allows three-story houses with front yards. R4s are typically detached and semi-detached houses. With the citys population at an all-time high, residential development pressures are afflicting many low-density neighborhoods. That is why City Planning is working hard to rezone many such areas to protect the neighborhood character that attracted people to them in the first place, Rachaele Raynoff, New York City Planning Department press secretary wrote in an email. We are keenly aware of and are actively responding to these concerns, evaluating issues unique to each neighborhood when civic associations, community boards or elected officials request it, Raynoff wrote. This is not an overnight process, Akselrod said. There have been calls made for a moratorium on all condominiums, but the same process would take approximately the same amount of time, he said. People have a right in this great country to sell to who they like to. Unfortunately, these developers have more money to offer these people and they are getting great prices at a time when the house market is doing very well, said Varley. He said it would not be appropriate to force the owners to occupy their building, but he understood that a row of properties remaining uninhabited for extended periods is a major security threat for the ones who are living there. Varley said he would be speaking to precinct cops to beef up patrols in the area. Thats completely necessary and only fair, Varley said We need to let the criminals know we are active in the area and we are not going to let it [crime] happen on our watch.
©2005 Community News Group
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