A developer has won what might be a Pyrrhic victory in his battle to build a controversial luxury condo and commercial project in Red Hook — he has defeated the project’s opponents in court, but the real-estate conditions are vastly different than four years ago when the legal war began.
Back in 2003, when most experts were predicting a Red Hook boom, Bruce Batkin planed to convert a 97-year-old warehouse at 160 Imlay St. into 144 condos and commercial space — possibly artists’ studios — on the bottom two floors. But opponents took him to court on the grounds that the city should not have permitted apartments on manufacturing land.
Batkin finally won in the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court on March 18, but the battle for the soul of Red Hook goes on.
Even now, Batkin would not say if he would follow through with his original plans for the concrete building between Verona and Commerce streets, obscured by netting since the litigation began.
That netting might as well be a funeral veil. Despite some positive developments for a would-be apartment builder — the cruise terminal and Fairway supermarkets have opened, and Ikea is slated to open this summer, favorable news for residential development — luxury development has been stifled near Batkin’s project.
The city had wanted to evict the operators of last active shipping piers in Brooklyn to make way for condos, a marina, hotel or beer garden. But the Bloomberg administration finally gave up the plan last month.
The Red Hook/Gowanus Chamber of Commerce, which fought Batkin for years, said the 160 Imlay St. owner should rent to an industrial tenant.
“We have a list a mile long [of businesses] who want space in the area,” said Tom Russo, president of the Chamber, who represents one faction of the local business community.
Meanwhile, storeowners on Van Brunt Street, Red Hook’s underperforming commercial strip, want residential development because many industry jobs aren’t going to return.
“It felt like there was a stranglehold on any logical land use in Red Hook,” said Joe Bernardo, a co-owner of the Hope and Anchor diner, who gathered 60 signatures of Red Hook merchants supporting the Imlay Street condos.
Supporters of the Imlay Street project pointed out that Greg O’Connell, one of Batkin’s chief critics, turned an old warehouse at the end of Van Brunt into the Fairway market, plus 45 residential units.
Some industrial companies lined up in favor of it, too, because it would bring life to a desolate part of the neighborhood.
“Everybody that’s in the area for industry is so happy this eyesore is going to become a living entity,” said Jim Tampakis, owner of Marine Spares International, an industrial supply company.
©2008 Community News Group
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