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Grump Towers! Community board votes no on Newtown Creek high rises

The Brooklyn Paper

A community board is telling the developers of two huge Greenpoint high-rise projects to take a long walk off a short Newtown Creek pier.

Community Board 1, which serves Williamsburg and Greenpoint, voted no on Greenpoint Landing and 77 Commercial Street, both skyscraping apartment complexes planned for the Newtown Creek end of the nabe, saying that the developers responsible are shadier than a privately-run park surrounded by high-rise luxury condos.

“They are not doing the right thing,” community board member Rob Solano said of the developers. “They are arrogant, they don’t get it, and they answer questions with questions.”

The caginess of the developers planning the adjacent 19-tower (Greenpoint Landing) and two-tower (77 Commercial Street) complexes shows that they were not serious about transparency, said Solano, who wants to know why the projects do not include more three-bedroom apartments and why the towers are designed to have separate entrances for low-income tenants. The community board member thinks that the developers tried to ram the projects through when they thought no one was looking.

“It’s the oldest trick in the book: if you want to get anything done, you push it through in the summer [when the community board does not meet],” said Solano. “By the time the fall comes around, it’s already at the city council.”

But Greenpointers were paying attention. Two community board meetings last month drew hundreds of outraged neighbors and, last week, residents rallied at a protest, vowing to sue the city and developers over supposedly inadequate environmental studies.

The community board does not have the power to stop the towers from rising, leaving some anti-high-rise neighbors holding their collective breath as the projects move through the bureaucratic process, going up for approval first before the borough president and then the council and mayor.

“I don’t think [the no vote] matters so much in the end because [the community board] is just an advisory group,” said Carolyn Bednarski, who lives across the street from the proposed towers. “We are taking it one step at a time. We have to deal with [Borough President] Marty Markowitz next.”

Markowitz has until Oct. 9 to say yea or nay.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
I applaud CB1 and the community for coming out and taking a stand here. It's true that "hearings" are often scheduled over the summer and around holidays in anticipation of low turnout.

But to sway the BP and the Council, the community will have to come up with solutions, not just complaints.

If we can't build large on waterfronts and large sites such as Atlantic Yards, which is impacting my neighborhood, then where can we build large enough to even begin to take a dent out of the housing shortage?

Where will the tax revenue come from to support much needed new infrastructure and subsidized housing throughout the borough, if we can't capitalize on prime waterfront and downtown locations?

One good idea I think is for communities to start banding together and acquiring warehouses and factories for conversion to cooperative housing. This would show that new condos are not the only solution to the dearth of both market-rate and "affordable" housing. And condos are not the "only" solution.

But the problem facing the BP, the Council, and City Planning, is 70,000 or so new residential units needed in NYC per year. North Brooklyn is full of talented thinkers and designers. So hit the drawing board, folks!
Sept. 12, 2013, 11:57 am
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
Excuse me, it's probably more like 40 to 50 thousand new units required per year. There are one million more people in the city today than there were 20 years ago.
Sept. 12, 2013, 12:03 pm
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
But you have to think not just about yuppies to come, but the number of people who are quadrupling up and couch surfing around the city today.
Sept. 12, 2013, 12:06 pm
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
Sheesh! What is going on here. Levin wins the 33rd, Pierson calls fraud in South Williamsburg, my neighborhood is bumped from the 33rd to the 39th, towers are poised to soar toward the sky ... and silence? Total silence on all this? C'mon people, what do you think?
Sept. 12, 2013, 12:53 pm
"Interloper" from Kent Ave says:
Go look for your handouts elsewhere. Premium housing is here to stay!
Sept. 12, 2013, 4:25 pm
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
Gently, Interloper, gently. We must make the case for why it behooves everyone to have high-rise luxury housing on our waterfronts. Why it is the case that subsidized housing has no place on prime waterfront property. Because it robs the taxpayer of the full potential of these properties, from the point of view of taxes as well as economic benefit to the community.

Just being a longtime resident and being poor or working class creates no moral claim to the land. If you really had an investment in your community, you'd have bought property here long before gentrification, when property was dirt cheap. You can't come around after the fact and say you've been robbed of something you never owned. You can't come and tell me you lived here "when no one else wanted to" when clearly you didn't want to live here either and the condition of the streets and trashed vacant lots said as much.

I was also here when no one else wanted to be here, and I helped make the area desirable, as did many other hipsters, bohos, and local people as well. Now you say that we who restored the neighborhoods have stolen it from you? How so? Did you own it? Is this the Sunni section of the village and I happen to be a Shia, so I have no implicit right to come here and make things happen? Doesn't work that way in America, folks.

The greater good calls for luxury housing on the Brooklyn waterfronts, and as much of it as is feasible. Keep building, keep renovating, and we will get to a point where we will start to have mid-market and even down-market housing, and more money and more jobs in the borough, so more people can become homeowners in Brooklyn.
Sept. 12, 2013, 5:26 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I am glad that common sense came to this. However, I fear that the developers will always find their way to get what they want one way or another. Let's not forget that Marty does love a number of developers especially if it's to his benefit like Ratner and the AY Complex that he backed so greatly. Seriously, I do find it important to think of the hard working, who helped build the neighborhoods with their own blood and sweat and even lived there originally when nobody else did, but now only to say thanks but no thanks to them. Before any of you start acting apathetic to them, remember that one day, this can happen you to you, and I know how some of you don't want to be called NIMBYs to your position.
Sept. 12, 2013, 7:31 pm
SwampYankee from runined Brooklyn says:
Tal,
The developers will not always get their way. If you own a single family home in a historic district they can not touch you. Like Ethan implies, buy and own when the market is at the bottom. Bruce Rattner on the left, Bruce Rattner on the right makes no difference to me . Renter, co-op owner, condo owner you are just a target
Sept. 12, 2013, 8:01 pm
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
Tal, the people who "built" these neighborhoods have been dead for a hundred years. The people who brought these neighborhoods back FROM the dead are hippies, artists, small-time entrepreneurs, and a lot of local native Brooklynites who had the forsight to buy property and the will to fight off environmental degradation.

Any local renter who comes out now and says "I deserve a subsidized apartment with a river view because I've been here for 16 years" is being absurd. Where does this right come from?

What about the property owner who actually DID build something in Greenpoint, and stands to be rewarded handsomely for it because of hyper-gentrification. He does not have a right to his success? He has to shoulder a larger part of the real estate tax burden, because of what? Because yuppies aren't allowed in Greenpoint and 500 people want discount housing on the East River? I don't think so, Tal.
Sept. 12, 2013, 8:05 pm
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
True enough, Swampy. I am in an historic district. All the same, we get the crowding and density in the streets from development around the PS historic district.

Similarly, Greenpoint Landing is not inside any of the old neighborhoods, but those hoods will be impacted, for sure.

There's no cutting and pasting around these issues. We have to reconcile ourselves to a supersized borough. The old days are gone. Best we can do is build big WHERE we can build big. Atlantic Yards, the waterfronts, parts of Gowanus.

The only way you can preserve historic integrity inside the neighborhoods, and also cushion the housing crunch, is to build big and tall where it is feasible to do so. The Brooklyn waterfronts and a few other sites are where it is feasible to do so.
Sept. 12, 2013, 8:19 pm
Juniper from Greenpoint says:
Excuse me Greenpoint never needed to be brought back from the dead. unlike Williamsburg and Buswick it has always had a strong middle class and these people haven't been dead for a hundred years. We have our supermarkets, schools and shops. If it wasn't for us poor and middle class people having fought for waterfront access these luxury apts would never have been invisioned and if wasn't for the 2005 rezooning Greenpoint wouldn't be having to fight these battles again and again.
Sept. 12, 2013, 9 pm
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
Juniper, it was the Greenpoint middle class that started this whole epoch of renewal in North Brooklyn.

But make no mistake, Greenpoint had vacancy, blight, and environmental degradation. And Greenpoint did something about it, and the result is an astounding story of urban recovery.
Sept. 12, 2013, 10:50 pm
Ethan from Park Slope says:
And we fought for access to the waterfront, yes. But the waste transfer companies and warehouses that were blocking those public streets to the waterfront, were doing so out of liability fears. The waterfront was completely wild, the city was not controlling it, and the companies operating there didn't want to get sued for god knows what.

Anyway, all you had to do was snip a hole in the fence and walk in. No one cared. And it was a whole lot more fun than it will ever be with condos.

Still, there will now be public access along all of New York's waterways. This is a mandate of the city's plan for waterfronts. The idea that the waterfronts will be private yards for the condos is just not true, it's urban rumor fed by resentment.
Sept. 13, 2013, 1:19 am
smo from Greenpoint says:
People talk a lot about demand but no one seems concerned with capacity. If the people looking to rent into highrises are so bent at looking at the water they could easily move to LIC. Towers in Greenpoint would drastically alter the character of the neighborhood. Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with new development but I think the height restrictions were wise.
Sept. 13, 2013, 11:13 am
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
Okay smo, then figure out how to get 5,500 units into lower towers that are more in keeping with the character of the neighborhood, maybe expand the footprints of the sites if possible.

The point is, it's easy to do beautiful contextual city planning if you can simply declare how many new people you "want" in the neighborhood, and how much "affordable" housing you "want" for yourselves. But that's wishful "design" for the community, not city planning for the city.

Don't just clam up and shoot the messenger if I tell you, ya, we gotta put 10,000 yuppies on the Greenpoint waterfront. Because we do. That's the kind of demand we're looking at.
Sept. 13, 2013, 1:17 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
On an aesthetic level I've been appreciating the new towers going up on Long Island City, Williamsburg, downtown, and along 4th Avenue in Park Slope. When I compare them to the Freedom Tower rising in the distance, it seems clear that Brooklyn has the edge in architectural innovation.
Sept. 13, 2013, 5:18 pm
Ethan from Park Slope says:
Yes, Scott, there's lots of great new residential architecture on 4th Avenue and going into Gowanus. It's like Anthony and his brother's body shop next to Svetlana's pied a terre. Pretty funny. But it works. It's sexy. Love the dynamic architecture going up all over North Brooklyn too, big and small. Some butt-ugly stuff, and some really nice solutions too. I live in a brownstone museum. People should appreciate living in a neighborhood that has rugged industrial bones and the ability to morph.
Sept. 13, 2013, 6:06 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Ethan, how much did this developer pay you to say these things, because you tend to sound like you work for them by saying this? Either way, smo has a good point about the infrastructure. How can you build at a such a height when you have an infrastructure that can barley keep up with what's there now? If anything, that has to be improved first before any big buildings can happen. This was the very same concern for the Atlantic Yards and even for the East Midtown rezoning to allow for such a thing to happen, though these also involved saving historic architecture as well. In the end, all this really goes down to is developers hoping that they can get their way due to having friends in high places as always.
Sept. 13, 2013, 6:26 pm
Ethan from Park Slope says:
$250.00 per post, Tal.

Tal. I get the whole thing about inadequate infrastructure and real estate cronyism. I really do. And these are concerns that have merit. That does not mean that an individual cannot have a sincere opinion that favors large-scale development.

I really do believe that the city will be injuring itself down the road if we are not prepared to look at a quarter million new units in the next ten to twenty years. Every single mayoral candidate, as well the present mayor, is dangling figures roughy in this ballpark, and some say "affordable" and some say "market" and I say that will come out in the wash.

Again, I reiterate the pith of my argument: IF we want to preserve character, history, and cultural integrity in the neighborhoods, and also meet the REAL DEMAND of the rising population, then we have to supersize in those areas where it is feasible to do so -- waterfronts, brownfields, and along certain connective avenues and intersections.

If we extend a kind of block-association nimbyism out into these viable locations, then we are effectively saying no to the growth that we need in order to accommodate all the people who want to live in Brooklyn and are ready to pay to live here.

I think this kind of a kibosh on development would clog up into a massively overpriced bohemian nimbyland of 20-million dollar garages, subsidized pottery shacks, and token bantustans of little Puerto Rican children having their photos taken by Russian supermodels. It would be like Jane Jacobs in drag, and it WOULD be a drag.

Where are the yuppies? We will ask. Where are all the normal people with jobs who form the backbone of a city?
Sept. 13, 2013, 7:28 pm
matt from greenpoint says:
Wake up folks!
Do your research

Who in their right mind would want to live on top of a Superfund....the most polluted waterway in the U.S.
known to spew carcinogens and fumes.

Did I miss something or is getting Cancer or related medical conditions Hip these days?
Sept. 14, 2013, 10:02 am
Ethan from Park Slope says:
It's amazing that that the petroleum spill inside Greenpoint's water table has not had a bigger negative effect on gentrification. But there you go. What is deemed shall be.
Sept. 14, 2013, 2:08 pm
Ethan from Park Slope says:
Once you have put the shazzam on a neighborhood, there's no going back.
Sept. 14, 2013, 4:52 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
If you tried looking at the cause of why there is so much opposition rather than the effects, then you would understand why they are against it so much.
Sept. 14, 2013, 5:54 pm
Ethan from Park Slope says:
Well, the cause is gentrification. The neighborhoods have been discovered as the desirable places they have always really been, and have been spruced up and made more desirable.

Everyone wants to live here. What can you do, tell them they can't live here? The demand is not "induced" by developers; it is 30 years in the making.

When a waterfront or an Atlantic Yards are rezoned for development, this comes a quarter of a century into the process of gentrification.

Gentrification reaches a point where it can no longer grow organically. It must be accommodated by policy. Like a business that grows so fast it needs to go public. Rezoning and development are the IPO of the gentrified neighborhood.
Sept. 14, 2013, 10:20 pm
Ethan from Park Slope says:
I guess the way I see it is ... It's too late to stop gentrification, and the only way out of this condition that causes so much animosity and scarcity of space, is to push all the way through to its conclusion - the supersized hypercity. The objective being a city with enough housing all around so that people can move here and rent or buy something for some earthly amount of money. The "character" of the city will be greatly changed, for sure. But it won't be the first time. And the city will have morphed into a place that can accommodate a much larger population.
Sept. 15, 2013, 12:35 am
Ethan from Park Slope says:
This strikes me as actually the more progressive and populist position, whereas the opposition to large scale development strikes me as having an elitist and exclusionary component to it.
Sept. 15, 2013, 12:38 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Ethan, why should major parts of a city always be playgrounds for the rich? Why is that the rich should always get access to just about every center while those lower than them shouldn't? What makes those on the lower part of the ladder less to the neighborhood compared to those that are higher? Of course, you will probably never give an actual answer, because it will probably not agree with you. As for the Atlantic Yards, the area for it was never rezoned by the city, it was the state that bypassed them, but the normal city zoning laws are still there for the rest of that neighborhood, it just doesn't touch that site.
Sept. 15, 2013, 7:49 pm
Moses kestenbaum ODA from Williamsburg says:
Is this vote down because needer man didn't get paid off?
Sept. 15, 2013, 9:44 pm
Ethan from Park Slope says:
Tal, I just don't think you get it. The "working people" who gave their "blood and sweat" to Greenpoint, as you put it, are virtually all property owners.

Greenpoint was a working class and lower middle class community that became wealthy and upper middle class within the span of a single generation. Literally before my eyes!

They achieved this largely through home ownership and community activism. These ARE the "working" people you mean, and they are mostly winners in this game.

This is why the community board voted down the 197a plan and went for broke with a vote on wholesale rezoning. Because the Greenpoint working class has an indomitable will to become upper class, and fast. Everyone knows this about Greenpoint. It's a tad different from a lot of other blue collar neighborhoods in Brooklyn in this way.

If Ayn Rand had written a saga about a Brooklyn neighborhood, she'd have chosen Greenpoint.

I do not believe that there is a working class opposition to waterfront development in Greenpoint that is not out-voted by a home-owning, newly affluent, former "working class," also in Greenpoint, that supports turning the neighborhood into an upper class neighborhood of only residential, offices, and retail.

Nothing short of that initiative will compel a cleanup of the oil spill and possibly even an eventual eviction of the Newtown sewage treatment plant.

People who talk about subsidized housing on the waterfront, "mixed use," and a place for the "working class" alongside the "rich," to my mind, do not understand the traditional working class of Greenpoint and what its mandate is for the community.

Long live Marcy Boyle!
Sept. 15, 2013, 11:47 pm
Does Ethan Have from ADD? says:
With all you have to say, and all of it sooo valuable, shouldn't you say yes to all the publishing and media offers you are doubtless receiving?

Or maybe you should just get your own blog? I agree with some of your points, but LESS IS MORE!
Sept. 17, 2013, 12:58 pm

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