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New Luxury Address On Conover St.? Empty Lot Gets Thumbs Up For Conversion

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A vacant Conover Street lot might not be a neighborhood dumping spot for much longer. In a narrow 7-5 vote, the Landmarks/Land Use Committee of Community Board 6 approved a variance request by the property owner, John Pellegrino of King Street-based Atlas Packaging Solutions Holdings Inc., to convert the lot into a four-story residential building. The vote is the first step in a process the owner and his attorney, Emily Simons, hope will end in an approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals, the city panel with official say over such matters. The committee’s vote, and the community’s expected vote at its general meeting on Feb. 8, are strictly advisory. The lot, 146 Conover Street, sits in an area zoned for manufacturing use, and therefore requires public approval for a use other than the current zoning allows. “It’s really a no-brainer,” said Michael Ingui, a member of the committee. “Could you imagine an industrial use between these two residential buildings?” “That would be a mistake,” he added. Simons said the lot’s small size and its position between two existing buildings, one vacant and the other a residential property, make it unsuitable for anything but residential use. Proposals for residential housing in Red Hook are rarely without controversy, as existing businesses, and those who represent them, often clash with residents and developers, keen on transforming the neighborhood into the borough’s next big thing. Rachael Dubin, the policy and planning manager for the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation said the block is home to two round-the-clock businesses, which make new residential development here untenable. Moreover, she said, a survey of local businesses, which her group is an advocate for, found that they are not in favor of the conversion. “It might exacerbate already tense relationships between residents and local businesses,” she told the committee. Bette Stoltz, the executive director of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation, also a business advocacy group, urged committee members not to “sabotage” the city’s attempt to retain industrial jobs in the area. She reasoned that Pellegrino could use the lot as warehousing space for his packaging business. “he could use another warehouse in Red Hook,” she said. To that suggestion, Pellegrino was seen putting his head in his hands. Committee member Lou Sones, who lives a block from the Conover lot, said the project is just what the neighborhood needs, namely, an infusion of new residents. Sones, a Red Hook activist and bar owner, said he could envision no other use for this narrow, weed-strewn lot. He blasted Dubin’s group as well as the SBLDC, both not-for-profit organizations, saying they were “frightened of losing control.” “I think they have a mission, and their mission is to save as much land for manufacturing and industrial use, but I think their mission is out of touch with reality,” he said. “It is not a manufacturing/warehousing economy—it’s a service based economy.” Stoltz countered, saying, “We helped the Ikea application and the Fairway application—both service economy businesses—and they opposed them…so what is he talking about? More people in the neighborhood will surely bring better services from the city, Sones reasoned, and with that, more pressure on businesses to be good neighbors. “It’s not that there won’t be businesses that go there, it’s that now they’ll have to obey the law,” Sones continued. But the fear for local businesses is that an influx of residents could be their death knell, forcing them to relocate because of rising rents, among other factors. Dubin, asked to respond to Sones, said, “When you fall back on rhetoric, you lose the point.” She said she welcomed the opportunity to provide Sones a tour, “and have him meet with some of our businesses.” Pellegrino said he has held the property since 2000. In its current state, it is simply, “a dumping lot.” A residential building is the only use that would net a profitable return, Pellegrino said. “Everything is dollars and cents,” he told the committee. “That’s the reality.”

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