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All Joe Chan wanted to do was bring a “Manhattan-style” condo tower to a run-down block in Boerum Hill.
And then all hell broke loose.
More than two-dozen people gathered recently in front of a vacant weed-infested lot owned by Chan. The purpose: to stop Chan’s 11-story tower after he likened its aesthetics to that of the evil island on Brooklyn’s western front.
“Manhattan-style,” he had called it.
Them’s fightin’ words in Boerum Hill.
“We don’t want what he has proposed,” explained protest organizer Deborah Kaufmann, who lives next door to Chan’s empty lot, formerly an auto garage. She believes his 11-story “tower” will spoil she calls the neighborhood’s “brownstone” look — though she readily admits that her four-story home, 100 yards from the 14-story Gowanus Street Houses on Hoyt Street, is a regular old house and not one of the storied 19th-century models.
The primary casualty of the Manhattan-modelled newcomer would be the Brooklyn-style backyards of Baltic Street. Instead of facing a wide open lot — albeit one paved with cracked asphalt — Kaufmann and her neighbors will stare at a brick wall (or, in true other-borough style, into the windows of the new neighbors).
“We need to figure out a way to allow for development without losing the light and air that attracted us here,” said Kaufmann.
“Light and air.” Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Boerum Hill resident — and “Brokeback Mountain” star — Michelle Williams used the very same words to oppose Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards plan.
But it’s not development, per se, that is driving Brooklynites mad, experts said. It’s Manhattan.
“We all know that if a place is overcrowded there is a certain stress,” said Charlotta Kotik, a Carroll Gardens resident who fought a “Manhattan-style” condo near her home last year.
“Manhattan crams in as many people as possible — and then come the cars and the traffic and, of course, my nemesis, the Fresh Direct trucks.”
Indeed, a recent newsletter put out by the Park Slope Civic Council used the “M” word to highlight why the organization opposes Ratner’s 17-skyscraper project.
“What if a Manhattan grows in Brooklyn?” it ominously asked.
“Manhattan is a borough full of very tall buildings and the canyons they create. Brooklyn is a borough of brownstones and similarly sized buildings,” explained Lydia Denworth, president of the council. “Manhattan has been built one way and Brooklyn another. We like the way Brooklyn’s been built and we want to keep it that way.”
Ironically, Chan believes he’s doing the Baltic Street homeowners a favor by turning the broken-concrete lot into a glossy new tower. To him, Manhattan equals wealth and wealth equals “nice” — and who doesn’t want that?
“I don’t know why [the neighbors] don’t want a nice building, they’d rather have an empty lot with rats,” Chan told The Brooklyn Papers, adding that he had never faced such opposition in Queens or Manhattan.
The opposition has made him nervous enough to revise his plans by lopping off “one or two floors,” he said.
If Chan is willing to compromise it could be because his neighbors’ fight is an increasingly popular one. Complaints about supersized buildings have become a hot button political issue, with elected officials, including Mayor Bloomberg, supporting a downzoning push.
Already in Park Slope, a limit on building heights protects a low-rise character. And last year, the zoning restriction was extended to include the neighborhood’s vinyl-sided southern fringe.
Similar downzoning efforts are afoot in Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst.
The downsize push is so frenzied that even the guy who personifies out-of-scale development to many Brooklynites showed up at the Baltic Street rally.
“I don’t agree, but towers aren’t perceived as good neighbors anymore,” said Robert Scarano, a prolific architect whose seven-story South Slope tower has been caught in limbo since the stricter zoning became law last year.
Scarano isn’t siding with his critics, but merely showing that he’s another Manhattan-style architect who is willing to listen.
To a point.
“I’d like to hear the community opposition,” he told The Brooklyn Papers, “if [someone] tried to build the Williamsburgh Bank Building tower today.”
©2006 Community Newspaper Group
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