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Conover St. Conversion Rejected: CB 6 Overrules Committee In Defeating Bid

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Shunning its Land Use Committee’s recommendation, Community Board 6 this week rejected a proposal to convert a trash-strewn Red Hook lot into a residential building. The lot, located at 146 Conover Street, is sandwiched between two buildings—one of which is owned by board member Greg O’Connell, a local developer who spoke out against the conversion. The lot sits in an area zoned for manufacturing use—and in a zone included in the mayor’s proposed Industrial Business Zone, a citywide initiative designed to retain the industrial sector. To be converted to residential use, the project must receive public approval for a use other than the current zoning allows. The board voted 18-9, with two abstentions, to recommend disapproval of the variance to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals. The community board’s vote is strictly advisory. On Jan. 26, the property owner’s attorney, Emily Simons, successfully argued before the board’s committee that the lot’s small size and its position between the two existing buildings, make it unsuitable for anything but residential use. Only a residential building will yield a profit for her client, she said. But O’Connell and the board’s majority were not convinced. “There’s no hardship here,” O’Connell told the board at its Feb. 8 general meeting. “It’s a perfect place for business to expand, which we hope will happen,” he said. O’Connell—the former police detective who, as a developer, wore a wire and helped cops nab City Councilmember Angel Rodriguez on extortion and other charges—owns 144 Conover, a vacant, formerly residential building, according to the city’s Department of Finance. O’Connell told the board the site’s proximity to Manhattan makes it “a great location for a service type of business.” Asked about the existence of a conflict of interest, CB6 Chair Jerry Armer said he did not believe one existed. “I don’t think it benefits him one way or another,” Armer said. “Considering the way residential development is going, people can get much more with residential than commercial,” he continued. However, Armer said that O’Connell, “probably should have declared his ownership [of 144 Conover].” But, he continued, there was no legal reason for him to do so. “I didn’t know he owned it,” the board’s chair added. The owner of 146 Conover, John Pellegrino of King Street-based Atlas Packaging Solutions Holdings Inc., said his neighbor is interested in one thing: profit. “He [O’Connell] has his own ideas about what he wants to put there,” Pellegrino told this paper. “It’s all for his own advantage and profitabil­ity.” “I think he wants to convert [his property] to offices,” Pellegrino continued. “He doesn’t want residential near him if he’s going to put offices there.” At press time, O’Connell did not return calls for comment. Pellegrino said he had a conversation with O’Connell about a year ago. “I said, ‘Greg, what are your thoughts,” Pellegrino recalled. “He said that it’s better to have a building there than to have an empty lot.” Board member Lou Sones, a Conover Street resident, urged the board to accept the committee’s recommendation. Red Hook is a mixed-use community, he said. More people living here means better city services, and the growth of small business, Sones said. “We have to deal with reality, not myth,” he said. Of the board’s vote, Sones said, “I was disappointed that so many people that don’t lay their head down in Red Hook want to decide the fate of Red Hook.” Pellegrino said he has spent a lot of money already on lawyers and architects, but he is not optimistic the BSA, which has official say over the conversion, will approve his request. “The alternative is nothing gets done there. To me, that’s not progress,” he said.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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