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A LOOK BACK ON THE YEAR - Here’s how Bay Ridge lived ’06

As the advent of 2007 leaves the previous year in the shadows, Ridgites might want to take a few moments to reflect upon the events of 2006 in their neighborhood. Filled with political confrontations, and community activism on a variety of fronts, the year that has now gone into the history books brought plenty of excitement to the streets of Bay Ridge and its surrounding areas. New Zoning on the Way The mayor’s visit to Dyker Heights in February for a town hall meeting ushered in a long-awaited moment – the announcement of a comprehensive rezoning of the neighborhood, which has been beset by over-development, with one and two family homes being razed and replaced by multi-family condominiums. Not surprisingly, the proposal from the Department of City Planning to down-zone large swaths of the neighborhood was greeted with enthusiasm by residents and activists. The plan to rezone 170 blocks includes mapping approximately 150 of them with either lower density or contextual zoning districts. In particular, the number of blocks zoned for one and two-family homes will increase from the current 12 to approximately 75 blocks. However, the wait continues. While Bay Ridge’s rezoning is nearly two years old, the Dyker Heights rezoning, at this writing, is still in the works, with the next stage promised for early 2007. Stay tuned. Take Fifth On the commercial front, one of the area’s major shopping thoroughfares has taken a grand step into its future, with the formation, last year, of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District. The BID, which runs from 65th to 85th Streets, provides a mechanism for a wide range of amenities to be added to the strip, with merchants and property owners agreeing to assess themselves to provide such benefits as supplementary sanitation services, graffiti removal, snow shoveling, special events, holiday lighting, additional benches, trees and flowers, and a website for the BID with links to the websites of individual merchants along the strip. Bike Path Rehab Another piece of good news is the changed state of affairs for the Shore Road bike path and seawall, which looked for a while as if it might crumble into the Narrows. After years of decay, the most severely damaged portions of the promenade, between 69th Street and 99th Street, have been renovated, with a grand reopening promised shortly. The essential repairs were begun in 2005, and ongoing work has already readied much of the bike path and pedestrian promenade for public use. So Long, Sewer Work Residents of Fort Hamilton Parkway, between 92nd and 99th Streets, were relieved as the strip reopened after a year and a half of ongoing, and often burdensome, construction that involved the replacement of old sewers with ones as large as 72 inches in diameter to handle increased flow. In addition, the $6.8 million project – which was commenced to stop the flooding of area homes after heavy rains — involved water main replacement, sidewalk work and the creation of pedestrian ramps. School Daze After a brief period where it appeared that the city’s Department of Education would not have the capital funding to proceed with plans for new school construction in the area, the state legislature came through with the necessary bucks. Currently, the School Construction Authority is at work on a new elementary-intermediate school on the site of the old Magen David Yeshiva, Avenue P and Stillwell Avenue, that will relieve overcrowding in some area schools, as well as on a new high school for Sunset Park, which is expected to relieve the pressure on high schools such as Fort Hamilton. They are also moving ahead with plans to convert the old Fortway Theater into a school, though those have not yet been finalized. Not the Last Picture Show And, speaking of theaters, Ridgites greeted with enthusiasm the news that their endangered movie theater, Fifth Avenue’s Alpine, had been saved. After learning of its impending closure, local elected officials went into overdrive trying to find someone to purchase the venerable showplace for use as a theater and, by last spring, they had succeeded, with a veteran of theater renovations taking over the premises. Bowl Over The news was not so good for the neighborhood’s last bowling alley, Mark Lanes, which shut its doors this past summer to make way for a multi-story parking garage planned by Century 21 department stores. While area residents mustered a strong show of support for the lanes, it turned out that its owners had already sold the remaining portion of their lease to Century for $1.36 million plus 18 months of free rent. Club Causes Comment While Bay Ridge residents mobilized to keep their bowling alley, the neighborhood clearly did not feel equally warmly about one of the community’s newest additions, Club Shadows, which opened at 9013 Fourth Avenue at the end of November. Before the club had even welcomed its first customer, it found itself in the midst of controversy, as area residents reacted to a sign hanging on the club’s façade which advertised “exotic dancers.” While club management insisted that “exotic dancers” did not mean “erotic dancers,” and that they never intended to run a strip joint, the club has run into problems nonetheless, on a variety of grounds, with its liquor license in the balance, and a hearing before the State Liquor Authority due to take place later this month. One Saved, One to Close The prognosis was mixed for the area’s health care facilities. While residents greeted with relief the welcome news that the federal government would not be closing down or consolidating services provided at the Brooklyn VA Hospital, they expressed dismay that another local medical establishment, Victory Memorial Hospital, would be shutting its doors. Victory is one of five city hospitals targeted for closure by the statewide Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century. While Victory was chosen for closure because of its precarious financial state (it recently filed for bankruptcy), elected officials, area residents and hospital workers agree that it is an important neighborhood asset. providing both emergency and non-emergency care to those who live nearby, and who would have to go further afield, to Maimonides or Lutheran, should the hospital close down. Go Gowanus There’s still no definite plan for the replacement of the aging Gowanus Expressway, but Ridgites learned, last year, that the process has been moving forward, with the state Department of Transportation now assessing four different options — two viaduct replacement proposals, one proposal for a tunnel and a do-nothing option, that would rely on ongoing maintenance but not replace the aging infrastructure. The current assessment phase is expected to last about two years, according to the state DOT, with the agency hoping to announce its final plans some time in 2008. But, don’t expect a replacement for the old highway any time soon – even if funding comes through for the work, the earliest a new Gowanus could be up and running is the year 2020. Flowery Show-Off Not every neighborhood has its own flower, but, as of 2006, Bay Ridge does. In August, the announcement was made that the hydrangea had been voted the neighborhood’s official flower – its showy blossoms perhaps overshadowing Brooklyn’s modest, early blooming forsythia. The hydrangea was elected the community’s official flower back in 2003, during Bay Ridge’s sesquicentennial, through polling that took place as part of that year’s Bay Ridge Festival of the Arts, with guidance from the Garden Club of Bay Ridge. Making a Stink While the hydrangea may perfume the air with floral notes, not every Bay Ridge fixture does the same. As they have for many years past, residents continued their fight to clean up the air around the Owls Head Water Treatment Plant, near the 69th Street Pier. Odors emanating from the plant have been an ongoing problem for people living nearby, making renovations at the plant the number one priority for Community Board 10, and resulting in ongoing pressure on the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to come through with improvements. However, despite a $20 million allocation for an extension to the plant’s grit and scum building, that will allow more of the plant’s open air tanks to be covered, problems with awarding the contract have meant that work has not yet begun. In the meantime, though, a survey performed by environmental engineers has located some of the sources of the stench, and DEP workers are now busy covering some of the most odiferous areas for a short-term solution to a long-standing problem. Out in the Streets Another ongoing problem has been the homeless population, long a fixture in certain corners of the neighborhood, including the parkland and train tracks that run below the Bay Ridge Towers. To turn that situation around, local elected officials petitioned City Hall to take action – and the city responded, first by announcing that the homeless encampment at the rail yard would be one of 73 different homeless encampments in different corners of the city, that would be secured in such a way that the homeless would no longer be able to get into them. That was back in September. Two months later, after another plea by area representatives, the city’s Department of Homeless Services said they would be sending outreach teams not only to the 65th Street rail yard but to seven other locations around the community where the homeless have been congregating. The hope, all stress, is that many members of the homeless population will accept the helping hand offered to them, improving their quality of life and the quality of life of the community. Electoral Action The political encounters that marked the election season were varied. With 46th A.D. Assemblymember Adele Cohen retiring, her seat was taken – after a fierce primary struggle – by Alec Brook-Krasny, who made history as the first Russian-American to win a legislative seat. Nor, was that the only change of representation for Bay Ridge residents. Assemblymember Matthew Mirones, who represented the 60th A.D., also announced his retirement, setting the stage for a heated battle between his political heir apparent, Republican Anthony Xanthakis, and the Democrat who had challenged him two years ago, Janele Hyer-Spencer. In a race that went down to the wire, Hyer-Spencer prevailed by a narrow margin, shifting the district from the Republican to the Democratic column. Other seats did not change hands. Republican State Senator Marty Golden, who ran unopposed, won re-election handily. And, despite a spirited challenge from Democrat Stephen Harrison, Republican Representative Vito Fossella prevailed. In winning, both Golden and Fossella bucked strong Democratic tides. However, while Golden returns to a State Senate still in Republican hands, Fossella goes back to Washington, for the first time, as a member of the minority party in the House of Representatives, the control of which was taken by the Democrats in the November elections. Photos By Paul Martinka

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