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State blocks higher rents for garage at Riverside Apartments

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A state agency has sunk a landlord’s plans to construct an underground garage topped with a garden behind an historic Joralemon Street apartment complex.

The Division of Housing and Community Renewal objected to building owner Joel Weiner’s request for the 90-car garage because it called for unfreezing rents in the 119-year-old Riverside Apartments — where rents have been locked since a previous landlord paved over a portion of the courtyard and play area for parking spaces more than a decade ago.

The state ruled last Tuesday that erecting a green-roofed garage behind the Alfred T. White–designed buildings wouldn’t fully restore the courtyard and play area, so the restoration of the original rents could not be justified.

“The courtyard/play area was meant for recreational use by the tenants,” rent administrator Lilia Albano wrote in a document obtained by The Brooklyn Paper.

“The proposed plan does not ameliorate the situation,” she continued. “This proposal is in direct conflict with the intended use of this area.”

The state’s decision also emphasized the importance of several mature trees that survived the 1950s construction of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway, which leveled about half of the apartment complex, and the 1990s construction of parking spaces in the courtyard, which claimed much of the greenspace.

Residents of the building complex were pleased — and shocked — by the state’s decision.

“This is stunning,” said Riverside Tenant Association Chairman William Ringler. “This is not only a victory for the Riverside Tenants, but it’s a victory for tenants in the entire city. This proves that tenants have a right to a healthy living environment, and owners don’t have a carte blanche.”

Early plans to construct an above-grade garage with a garden met harsh resistance over environmental and aesthetic concerns — though the Landmarks Preservation Commission later approved the current design.

After the Landmarks approval, tenants feared that their only hope to halt the project would be the discovery of architectural relics in the soil beneath the courtyard that. No relics were found.

The state’s decision is a blow to the garage proposal, but the door hasn’t closed on the project entirely, said Weiner’s attorney, Ken Fisher — a former Brooklyn Heights councilman.

“Obviously, we are disappointed at this initial determination, but there are other levels of review at the agency, which we will be pursuing,” Fisher said. “Ultimately, we are confident that our Landmarks Commission-approved project will move forward and the meet the needs of both community residents for parking as well as for tenants of the building.”

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Reader Feedback

Doug Biviano from Brooklyn Heights says:
Congratulations on your victory Chairman William Ringler and Riverside Tenants!

It was great to meet you all at your meeting last night. As promised, I will be there to support you in this fight for your affordable housing and to protect our historic architecture, mature trees and open spaces. As a member of the community, I have personally wandered in your courtyard several times over the years so I truly appreciate the magnificent and precious canopy of these trees in this special space. I hope you don't mind...

Feel free to reach out to me anytime.

Doug Biviano
Candidate in 33rd District
NYC City Council
July 17, 2009, 12:14 pm

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