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‘Towering’ concerns about over-development - Residents say latest construction is more proof borough is going in wrong direction

A construction site at 420 42nd St. in Sunset Park is the latest flashpoint in the neighborhood’s ongoing battle against what some residents call “over-development.” Some locals say it looks like a luxury condominium tower is going up — and it’ll block the view of the harbor, and alluring sunsets, that earned the area its name. “This is the first, most egregious example of what over-development could look like if we don’t put limits on it,” said Michael Schweinsburg, spokesman for City Councilmember Sara Gonzalez. The property, located on a side street lined with two- and three-story row houses, was formerly a parking lot for nearby Schaefer’s Funeral Home. But a national funeral management company recently acquired Schaefer’s and in September sold the parking lot to developer Kenneth Wong for $2.45 million, according to city records. The Department of Buildings stopped work at the site on Jan. 31, after the department audited the plans and determined they did not comply with building and zoning regulations for the neighborhood. The department will revoke the permit if the 37 objections raised in the audit are not addressed, said DOB spokesperson Kate Lindquist. The contractor on the project, Johnny Chan, said he is revising the blueprints and plans to meet with the department. Wong did not return calls for comment. The building plans do not indicate whether the apartments will be rentals or condominiums. The site also racked up 14 complaints filed with the Department of Buildings, in a two-week period prior to the “stop-work” order. Those included allegations that adjacent buildings were being undermined, and reports of construction work during early-morning hours. The department is still investigating the allegations of after-hours work but has not issued violations based on the complaints. Chan declined to comment on those grievances. The residential area of Sunset Park is comprised largely of two-to-three-story limestone and brownstone row houses built around the turn of 20th century. A large swath of the neighborhood makes up the largest Historic Housing District in the country. Many in the predominantly working-class immigrant community argue what’s really needed are affordable homes that fit in with the existing housing stock. “It’s going to destroy the character of the neighborhood,” said Jeff Sundheim, whose 43rd Street home abuts the construction site. Some say the 42nd Street project shows the flipside of the city’s recent changes to zoning rules in certain neighborhoods to restrict building and maintain the neighborhoods’ low-rise character. Sunset Park is sandwiched in between the South Slope on the north and Bay Ridge on the south. Rules in both neighborhoods were changed in 2005, to restrict tall buildings on side streets. But Sunset Park is still waiting for the Department of City Planning to carry out a study concerning possible changes to the area’s zoning rules. Now developers who want to build big may be zeroing in on the neighborhood. “It’s really the beginning of the high-rise luxury buildings this area could become,” said development watchdog and community board member Aaron Brashear, who loudly opposes the project. He has been videotaping work at the 42nd St. site and posting it on the Internet, on Youtube. Community Board 7, which covers Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace, has not taken an official stance on the 42nd Street project, though they are monitoring the situation. “This is a problem that we have in all corners of our community, and we didn’t have it five years ago,” Community Board 7 District Manager Jeremy Laufer said. He said he expects a new sub-committee on building issues to be approved at the board’s Feb. 21 meeting. The construction plans for 420 42nd St. filed with the Department of Buildings show a 10-story, 31-unit building with medical offices and a daycare facility on the first floor and roughly two-dozen underground parking spaces. Brashear says the blueprints also show penthouse apartments. At over 100 feet tall, the building would approach the height of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, located directly across Fourth Avenue. The church’s egg-shaped dome, which rises 200 feet in the air, is a local landmark. The unimpeded view from the top of Sunset Park, one of highest points on Long Island, past St. Michael’s and toward the harbor, is one of the area’s main draws. The city chose the park, because of its stunning vista, for one of five 9-11 Memorial Groves across the city. Critics say the Wong project would block that view. “Nobody owns the view,” Chan said. Thomas Murphy, 61, has lived in one of the five attached row houses whose backyards abut Wong’s property since he was 4 years old. “[The city] rezoned up to 23rd Street and forgot about the rest, and all the developers starting running into Sunset Park,” he said. “Why? Why did they stop? They only invited the developers to move further south. You can do anything you want in Sunset Park. We’re all getting screwed.” Murphy said the prospect of living in the shadow of a tower angers him. The dearth of parking will worsen, he said. His house shakes during construction which he never received notice about, he said. Murphy said he has little faith the city will act on his concerns. “These apartments will cost more than the houses next to them,” he said. “And people will forever live in the shadow.”

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