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2006 IN REVIEW - People and events that shaped the community

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A controversial waterfront development plan, fear of overbuilding, and the arrival of the grande dame of all cruise ships: Those are just some of the stories chronicled in this paper in 2006. Below are encapsulations of select news items from the past 12 months. Pier Plan Dead in the Water? At the close of 2005, the city proposed an ambitious plan seeking to reshape Red Hook’s waterfront, transforming the grit into a lustrous—albeit cultured—pearl. Entering 2006, the question was: Will the mélange of shops, restaurants and so-called ‘maritime uses’ play on Pioneer Street (among other places)? After a series of increasingly testy public meetings, the answer soon became clear: the status quo, plus more parkland, will do just fine. The city, led by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), has insisted all along that it is simply gathering information that will inform the creation of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), which will ultimately look at all conceivable consequences of development on the 1.1-mile, 120-acre site. But it seems as if the distrust for big development that’s been fomenting in nearby Prospect Heights (proposed home of the recently approved Atlantic Yards project), has resonated in Red Hook. “I don’t think we need to further discuss what we all want. We all know what we want!” local resident John Goodburn told Kate Collignon, a special projects coordinator with the EDC at a November meeting. What people want, they would express in angry, frustrated voices, is more open space and a plan that respects all that makes this neighborhood unique. Collignon insisted that the goal has been to be attentive to the community’s wishes. “What we are hearing this time…is that we didn’t hear you correctly,” Collignon said at the time. The inclusion of residential housing in the plan—which was, it turns out, first suggested by members of the community—quickly became a bone of contention, once interested parties began to rally against it. New housing proposed for the western portion of Columbia Street, some said, would overwhelm the community, crowd local schools, and cut off the neighborhood’s truly breathtaking waterfront vistas. In December, the city said it officially removed the housing component from the plan. The project could see the arrival of a hotel, a brewery, offices, another passenger cruise ship terminal, restaurants, retail stores and artist studios. This summer, if the City Council gives its blessing, the city plans to acquire the site from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the current landowner. Kate Ascher, the EDC’s executive vice president for infrastructure, recently told the Council’s Com-mittee on Water-fronts and Landmarks, Public Siting and Mari-time Uses Subcom-mittee that the city’s plan “integrates a diversity of industrial uses with community access and environmental sustainability.” “Under our plan, no existing longshore jobs will be lost; rather, expanded job opportunities will be created for both the [longshoreman’s union] and other unions,” Ascher said. “As part of this mixed-use plan, we are seeking to integrate and expand public access to the waterfront for Brooklyn communities that have—for a century—been blocked off from the beauty of New York harbor.” It’s unclear whether elected officials are keen on wholesale changes. City Councilmember Michael Nelson, who chairs the Committee on Waterfronts, told this paper that everything he’s “read and heard” seems to indicate that keeping the container port would only boost the local economy. American Stevedoring, which operates the container port on Piers 7-10, could be evicted once its lease expires in April. Nelson said the city’s plan “sounds nice,” but “given the two options…let the stevedores stay there as they are.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a staunch supporter of a container terminal in Brooklyn, remained solidly on the side of the stevedores this year. “I don’t want to see a facility in Red Hook closed until a facility is ready in Sunset Park,” he said. “If they shut the whole thing down, it’s harder to bring it back.” “The EDC is not telling the truth,” Nadler said. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that the city has any interest in a container port.” Changes to the city’s zoning map will have to take place before any new development can move forward, as much of the site is zoned for heavy industrial use. EDC officials have repeatedly advocated the idea of transforming a portion of the site, at Conover Street near the Atlantic Basin, into a maritime themed tourist attraction like Canada’s Granville Island. Whether this “dynamic maritime marketplace,” to borrow the parlance of city planners, will ever be realized remains to be seen. The results of a similar study, commissioned in part by the EDC in 2003, did little to bring change to the waterfront. Rezoning Effort Symptomatic of a borough-wide trend, last year saw a concerted effort to prevent out-of-scale development from laying ruin to Carroll Gardens. The Carroll Gardens Neighbor-hood Association is hoping to convince city officials that zoning changes need to be implemented now to preserve the neighborhood’s signature charms, which come largely by way of its tasteful architecture. “Everyone builds in a vacuum as if it doesn’t matter. What we have with these row houses is not going to happen anywhere else again,” member Glenn Kelly recently said. Over the summer, the group conducted a survey, finding that residents are overwhelming concerned about out-of-scale development. “We’re looking at this as a quality-of-life issue,” CGNA President Mara Pagano recently said. “We don’t want these mushrooms popping up. We don’t want that huge bulk and buildings going flush up against property lines – that whole sort of cavern effect.” Any contextual rezoning of Carroll Gardens must undergo a full public review process. Sugar Factory Dissolves That’s precisely what Thor Equities, developer Joe Sitt’s company, did late last year to one of Red Hook’s most recognizable buildings, the Revere Sugar Factory. Sitt’s tentative plans call for the conversion of the site into housing, offices and shops, but he has told this paper that he Brooklyn-born Sitt and his company have reportedly poured more than $100 million into Coney Island, where he hopes to transform the area into a year-round tourist hotspot. “Unlike Coney Island, where for two years we’ve been submitting to the city plans, we’ve not submitted any plans [for the Red Hook site] so we’re still on the ground floor—but we’re working on getting there,” Sitt told this paper. Sitt reportedly paid $40.5 million for the Revere Sugar site. “The reason why I’m doing developments in Brooklyn is because I care about my own neighborhood. This is the place I grew up. This is the place I moved back to live,” Sitt said. Meanwhile, preservationists did not cheer the news of the demolition. “I think this is an icon of the New York waterfront,” said Carter Craft, director of the Metropolitan Water-front Alliance, a citywide waterfront group said in December. “They only see it as a limitation,” Craft said. “It’s rusty, old and industrial. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that has a negative connotation, but I think it’s the essence of cool,” Craft said at the time. Good news for Sitt came in April, when the city approved 16 industrial business zones (IBZs), reflective of a commitment not to support the rezoning of industrial land—in designated areas—for residential use. The decision ostensibly gave the green light to Sitt’s plans for the Revere Sugar Factory site, which were initially jeopardized by the proposal. Sitt’s site was originally included in an IBZ. The Revere site is now located in an “Ombudsman Area,” a location determined to have a greater mix of uses besides strictly industrial. In these areas, the city does not offer a commitment on rezoning, meaning developers could potentially seek and win variances to build residential housing. “There is an ability to redevelop the site for a planning and rezoning process,” Lee Silberstein, a spokesperson for Thor Equities, said at the time. He said the site’s new designation, “gives more flexibility.” “We see IBZs as a way to tilt the playing field,” Economic Development Committee Co-Chair Alric Nembhard said in March. “But it almost requires a Solomon-like decision process to get it right.” Sitt told Nembhard’s committee in March: “The vast majority of people are in support of mixed income housing,” along with neighborhood retail development—which so happens to be his plan for the site. Queen Mary 2 Graces Brooklyn The cruise ship industry landed like “Lindbergh in Paris” we reported in April, when the world’s largest ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2, docked in Red Hook. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Borough President Marty Markowitz led a bevy of elected officials and civic leaders in greeting about 2,500 passengers and crew as they made their way down the gangplank to Brooklyn’s streets. “The new cruise-ship terminal not only creates jobs for Red Hook and Brooklyn residents and revitalizes our waterfront, it also proves that Brooklyn’s future is today, right now,” Markowitz said upon the QM2’s arrival. “Our tourism kiosk will help passengers discover Brooklyn, and our businesses will benefit from new opportunities with the cruise-ship industry. The Queen Mary 2 has arrived, and Red Hook and Brooklyn’s ship has come in – all aboard!” According to the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) the economic impact of the cruise industry on New York City is expected to climb to $900 million by 2011, up from $600 million in 2004. Not everyone was as rosy about the industry’s Brooklyn arrival, which was technically in 2005, with the arrival of the Oriana, the first cruise ship to anchor in Red Hook. Carroll Gardens resident Vincent Favorito said at the time that he has yet to see any economic benefits of the cruise industry’s arrival. “The area is depressed. Several times people looked for work [at the terminal] and were turned away,” said Favorito, an attorney. “We don’t know anyone in the area who were successful getting jobs in cargo or taxi dispatching. It may benefit Manhattan and the city as a whole but I would like some trickle down,” he added. The city hopes to add a second cruise terminal to Pier 10. Got a Light? Van Brunt Street Does, Finally. New traffic signals rarely grab headlines, but after a Sunset Park woman was struck and killed on Van Brunt Street, what had previously been a consistent grumble for a new light, quickly became a clarion call. The city Department of Transportation’s closely watched decision followed months of examination of traffic patterns along the roadway. The light will be installed at van Brunt and Sullivan Street. “We will continue to monitor the traffic situation to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep the neighborhood safe,” DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall said late this year. Engineers are now determining where in the intersection to place the signal and how best to set the timing. In September, DOT engineers studied pedestrian and vehicular traffic along the 15-block stretch Van Brunt. The DOT said that after Fairway market opened in the neighborhood this year, the agency received a request for a traffic signal from Community Board 6. In July, 45-year-old Janett Ramos was struck by a minivan at Van Brunt and Wolcott Street. At the time, John McGettrick, the co-chair of the Red Hook Civic Association said, “Sadly, a tragedy could have been avoided if the agency properly did their job.” “It is further indication of the indifference, bordering on incompetence of the DOT with regard to the Red Hook community,” he continued. Ramos’ death marked the first traffic fatality on Van Brunt Street in the last five years. Previously, every traffic study performed by the DOT did not meet Federal Highway Administration criteria to warrant the addition of new stop signs or traffic signals on Van Brunt. The only other light along Van Brunt is located at Bowne Street, near the cruise ship terminal. Neighborhood advocates point to new development, like the newly opened Fairway Market and the planned IKEA superstore, as reason enough for the city to take a hard look at traffic safety measures. Madigan Shive a waitress at Hope & Anchor, a restaurant located at the intersection where Ramos was struck, expressed the frustration locals felt after accident. “I feel that we are really a product of a class war. The actual people who live and work here are working class, middle class, or poor.” She said that the message seems to be that, “our lives are not worth as much as people in other neighborhoods,” she continued. “It’s just disheartening.” Dry Dock or Parking Lot? Way back in 2004, IKEA, the Swedish home furnishings retailer, won city approval to construct a megastore along the Red Hook waterfront. Last year, it was history that managed to propel IKEA back into the news. Preservationist groups like the Municipal Arts Society implored IKEA to save the dry dock, a historic structure on the Beard Street site. Ships have been serviced and repaired at the dry dock—which looks like a 710-foot tall bathtub—from the 1860s up until February 2005. Ikea’s plan is to fill a portion of the dry dock, cover it, and use it as part of the 1,400-space parking lot. Plans call for the construction of a 346,000-square-foot, $100-million store, with adjoining retail development on 22 waterfront acres. “We think it is viable because it is physically possible,” MAS Vice President Frank Sanchis told this paper in March. Sanchis suggested an alternate plan, calling for the construction of a second deck to the parking garage, thereby allowing the 700-foot dry dock to remain. That plan would force another public review process, further delaying construction of the store. “What is impeding them, in their mind, is bureaucracy and paperwork,” Sanchis said at the time. IKEA has said alternate plans are just not “realistic or viable.” David Sharps, president of the Waterfront Museum Barge, said in July that IKEA could choose to be hero—if it preserves the dry dock. “It is a functioning repair facility that would be best preserved by doing what it does best, which is repairing ships,” Sharps said. In November, the cause took a litigious turn. The Municipal Arts Society filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers for allowing IKEA to build over the Civil War-era dry dock, “an irreplaceable piece of maritime infrastructure.” IKEA was also named in the suit. The suit seeks to compel a legally mandated review of historic resources at the IKEA site, including the dry dock, known as Graving Dock No. 1. Presently, contractors have been working on building a retaining wall inside the dry dock. Allowing the dry dock to disappear will “forever tarnish the historic character of the site and weaken the city’s maritime industry,” the MAS alleged. IKEA spokesperson Joseph Roth said the lawsuit is “an unfortunate attempt to delay a project that will create hundreds of new, high-quality jobs for Brooklyn residents and will return the historically inaccessible waterfront to the neighboring community.” “We are confident that our case is extremely strong on the merits and we look forward to continuing construction on an Ikea store.” Upon completion, the store will be IKEA’s most expensive project in the United States, and one of its most expensive in the world. The store could open in late 2007 or 2008. Idle on Imlay Street In June, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Lewis quashed a developer’s $90-million plan to convert a mammoth waterfront property into luxury condominiums. Lewis said the city Board of Standards and Appeals’ 2003 decision to allow the conversion of 160 Imlay into 145 units was “irrational, arbitrary and capricious, and not based upon substantial evidence.” Michael Hiller, the plaintiff’s attorney, called the decision, “a huge win for Brooklyn, its small business community and the thousands of people whose jobs were directly threatened by the project.” “At this point, the project to convert the building is dead—as it should be. And should the developers seek to revive the project, we have every confidence that we will, once again, be successful in defeating it,” he said at the time. Back in January 2004, the Red Hook-Gowanus Chamber of Commerce filed the lawsuit, arguing that industrial uses along the waterfront are still a crucial part of the local economy, and that the proposed conversion would devastate neighborhood businesses and change the neighborhood’s character. The property, along with a sister building at 162 Imlay, continue to sit fallow along the waterfront, a disappointing and costly turn for developer Bruce Batkin and his business partners. Batkin called the decision, “a temporary speed bump in a complex but exciting project.” In October, rumors circulated that the properties could be sold to make way for a hotel and luxury housing. The most recent rumor is that the Marriott hotel chain may have strong interest, or be in negotiations to purchase the properties—as a pair containing 500,000 square feet of space—for an estimated $70 million. Batkin told this paper he had no idea why rumors regarding the sale of the properties persist. “We have a lot of interest from hotels,” he said. “We have many groups express interest.” A month before the Lewis decision, Batkin announced he was entertaining unsolicited offers seeking to purchase 160 and 162 Imlay. But then in June, he said he told this paper he would not sell the properties, and was determined to make the project succeed. Crime, or Lack Thereof (Knock on Wood) It’s been a murder free year for the 76th Precinct, which covers Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Red Hook. And as of December 31, overall crime saw a significant decline. The precinct saw a 15.6 percent drop in crime this year—654 felony crimes reported in 2006 compared with 775 reported for this same time period in 2005. All major categories saw declines, save for rapes, with eight reported last year, compared to three reported in 2005. Police statistics show that the 76th Precinct saw an 11 percent decrease in robberies; a 13 percent drop in reported felonious assaults; and a 27 percent drop in burglaries. Grand larcenies, or non-violent thefts of $1,000 or more, which include crimes regarding identity theft and credit card fraud, dropped 10 percent; car thefts dropped 21 percent, compared to last year, police statistics show. Back in 2005, there were four murders committed in the precinct. Back in February, a change in command came to the precinct, with Captain Michael Kemper named as Deputy Inspector Joseph Cassidy’s replacement. Speaking at the 76th Precinct Community Council at the time, Kemper vowed that every cop under his command would be accountable to the public. “I work for you,” he told the group. “The precinct works for you. Hold us to it,” he said. “Be tough with us. Be demanding with us,” he continued. Kemper said he was “blown away” when he arrived in Carroll Gardens to take the command on Feb. 1. “The neighborhood here is beautiful,” he said. “A lot of times, people don’t realize how drastic the changes have been,” he added, referring to the revitalization in recent years of commercial strips like Smith Street. Kemper said crime stats can be misleading: “We can be down 90 percent, but when someone in your family is victimized,” that all goes out the window.”

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